THE doors were opened yesterday for cash-rich Chinese investors to pump billions into our economy.
In a huge vote of confidence, one of the world's richest investment funds signed a special agreement with the NTMA -- the agency which manages the national savings and sale of state assets.
The fund, known as China Investment Corporation (CIC), is looking at investing massive sums in companies and assets, sparking hopes of a real revival and more jobs.
Financial analysts immediately speculated that the agreement could mean the Chinese investors ultimately buying some state assets or taking a stake in one of our banks.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny described the agreement as "very significant" and an opportunity to examine all forms of investment. He said CIC will explore a "very broad" range of investments.
The sale of semi-states could already be in the investment fund's sights, as the Chinese have a history of putting money into solid assets instead of bonds.
This track record also sparked hopes that the Chinese cash will be used to boost employment and to help large companies to expand.
The agreement yesterday was part of a double boost for Ireland's hopes of climbing out of its black hole of debt and recession.
Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan also delivered the strongest signal yet that we will be able to avoid making an imminent €3.1bn payment to the former Anglo Irish Bank.
It is part of an ongoing drive to reduce the annual cost of the debt to the ruined bank. The €3.1bn payment falls due on Saturday under the terms of a huge €30bn IOU originally used to rescue Anglo.
Asked whether he was "confident" the payment would be avoided at the end of this week, Mr Honohan said a deal was "likely".
"I think I'll hold to that. I think it's going to happen," he said.
Speaking to a Dail committee, he described this as a "major step forward from a debt sustainability point of view" since it would reduce Ireland's need to borrow in the near future.
Meanwhile, in China the ink was drying on the new agreement -- or so-called memorandum of understanding -- in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
John Corrigan, chief executive of the NTMA, signed the document with CIC International chairman Lou Jiwei and spoke enthusiastically about the possibilities.
"We've been talking to them for a good while. So this is a sort of cementing of the relationship. I think we should be clapping ourselves on the back. It's a major achievement to get to this stage," he said.
He refused to be drawn on what areas the investment will be focused but said the CIC had a " very active bond desk". However, he was quick to add that they invest "right across the spectrum".
When asked if the prestigious wealth fund would be interested in buying our state assets, he said "everything is a possibility".
Mr Kenny, who also witnessed the ceremony alongside Chinese President Wen Jiabao, added: "Clearly a country as economically powerful as China expressing an interest in being a partner to investment in Ireland is an important indicator in its own right."
He said China understands that "Ireland is now heading in the right direction".
Now the NTMA will help CIC identify investment opportunities as it looks to utilise the massive reserves of currency owned by the Chinese state.
CIC was established in 2007 with $200bn (€150bn) of assets under its management, which more than doubled over the next three years.
Officials from CIC travelled to Ireland last October to meet with Mr Kenny, NTMA officials and the Department of Finance. NTMA executives have also met with CIC a number of times in the past 18 months in the run-up to yesterday's formal agreement.
The wealth fund ploughs money into big companies and government bonds -- it already has minority stakes in companies like Thames Water in the UK, Suez in France and Morgan Stanley.
It specifically invests in distressed assets and countries in order to make money for the Chinese state, but its interest in Ireland could provide a vital lifeline to our floundering economy.