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Robinson and McGuinness pledge to forge new bonds with China

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First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness with Madam Li, President of Chinese People's Association for Friendship and Foreign countries in Beijing

First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness with Madam Li, President of Chinese People's Association for Friendship and Foreign countries in Beijing

Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness with Madam Li, President of Chinese People's Association for Friendship and Foreign countries in Beijing

Stormont's political leaders pledged to forge new bonds with China as they began an official visit to Beijing.

First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said their aim was to strengthen government-to-government relations and to develop further trade, investment, cultural and university links.

Arriving in the city, the two politicians met Madam Li Xiaolin, President of Chinese Peoples Association for Friendship and Foreign Countries.

The ministers are visiting China for the second time since last year's visit to Belfast of the country's now Vice Premier Madam Lui Yandong.

"Just over a year ago we had the pleasure of hosting Vice President Madam Liu and her colleagues to Belfast," said Mr Robinson.

"During the visit we opened the Confucius Institute at the University of Ulster and signed a number of partnership agreements with Queen's University Belfast.

"Following the visit of Madam Liu our relationship with China has grown stronger. This week we will talk to key Chinese government departments to explore how we can further develop existing links."

Mr McGuinness added: "We are encouraged with the growing relationship we have with China and we hope, through our series of meetings in Beijing, we will be able to identify more mutually beneficial areas of work. I hope we will see more exchanges between our young people and partnerships between our universities in the future."

The ministers noted major events taking place in Northern Ireland this year - such as the World Police and Fire Games in Belfast and the ongoing UK City of Culture programme in Londonderry - and expressed hope that many Chinese people would take the opportunity to visit the region.

The Chinese market is worth in excess of £110 million in terms of exports by Northern Ireland companies.

Last week, Mr Robinson revealed that one unusual trade link he and Mr McGuinness were trying to secure was for chicken feet.

While they are disposed of as waste in Northern Ireland, in the Chinese food market they are considered a delicacy.

Mr Robinson said this presented at opportunity for the region's poultry industry.

The politicians have come in for criticism for the cost of their recent trade missions to countries such as China, the USA and Brazil.

The bill for seven foreign trips last year was more than £350,000.

But the men have insisted the visits are necessary to cement trade deals and support Northern Ireland exporters.

Belfast Telegraph


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