The University of Ulster has announced plans for an initiative to forge stronger links between China and Northern Ireland.
The Confucius Institute, an offshoot of the Chinese Ministry of Education, has chosen to set up a new facility at the University's Coleraine campus.
It will be part of a network of 322 institutes in over 50 countries which promote and teach Chinese language and culture and facilitate cultural exchanges aimed at fostering trade links with China.
The new Confucius Institute, which takes its name from the Chinese philosopher of more than 2,500 years ago, will operate in partnership with the Zhejiang University of Media and Communications in south-eastern China.
University of Ulster vice-chancellor Professor Richard Barnett, who signed the agreement with Hanban, the Confucius Institute HQ, said the setting up of the Confucius Institute for Northern Ireland at the University of Ulster (CINIU) was a seminal moment for Chinese-Northern Ireland relations.
"The University of Ulster is delighted Hanban has chosen our bid to establish a Confucius Institute in Northern Ireland, based in Coleraine but operating across all our campuses," Professor Barnett said. "We are also delighted to team up with the respected Zheijiang University of Media and Communication and look forward to working with our colleagues there.
"Confucius Institutes not only promote the teaching of Chinese language and culture but facilitate the training of language teachers, cultural and academic exchanges and research into China's education system, economy, the arts and society. In doing so, they have become a vital cog in the relationships China builds with the countries in which they operate.
"The Confucius Institute at the University of Ulster will also act as a catalyst for the further development of business links between China and Northern Ireland. We look forward to working with the business community to ensure that Northern Ireland gains maximum benefits from this exciting new initiative."
He said the new plan would allow the university to significantly expand its Chinese language and cultural teaching, which currently includes the part-time Diploma in Mandarin Chinese at its Belfast campus and its BA Hons Applied Languages and Translation course.
Professor Shaojian Peng, president of Zhejiang University of Media and Communication, welcomed the development. "We very much look forward to the relationship between China and Northern Ireland flourishing through the work of the universities through CINIU across all levels - academically, commercially and culturally," he said.