High ranking Chinese stateswoman Yandong hails visit to Belfast
A HIGH-ranking Chinese stateswoman has hailed her visit to Belfast as proof of China's commitment to forging a positive relationship with Northern Ireland
Madame Liu Yandong, the most senior female politician in the ruling Communist Party in China, said she selected the region as the first stop on a tour of Europe.
On the second day of her visit she was welcomed at Belfast's two universities.
At the University of Ulster at Jordanstown, Madame Liu opened the new Confucius Institute - a centre aimed at developing language and cultural links with China.
Then at Queen's University in Belfast she heard of its plan to establish a college in China and witnessed the signing of collaborative agreements with Peking University and the Chinese Scholarship Council.
Around 1,000 Chinese students will study for degrees in pharmaceutical science at the new Queen's campus in the north east of the country.
"This year marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations at ambassadorial level between China and the United Kingdom," Madame Liu said in her address at the Confucius Institute.
"Over the past four decades, UK-China relations have been moving forward in great depth. We have established a comprehensive strategic partnership, and enjoy all round co-operation.
"Confucius once said: at the age of thirty, one is established: at forty, one is free from complexities: at fifty, one knows the mandate of heaven. Now, at the age of 40, China-UK relations are at a new starting point with greater maturity.
"An important purpose of my visit to the UK is to implement the agreement between premier Wen Jiabao and Prime Minister Cameron to establish China-UK high-level people-to-people dialogue.
"This is the first people-to-people exchange mechanism China has established with an EU country, and the third it has established, after the USA and Russia.
"I chose Northern Ireland as the first stop of my visit to the EU in order to fully demonstrate China's commitment to Northern Ireland." Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness attended the colourful opening ceremony at the University of Ulster.
"We want to build closer relationships with the government and people of China and the Confucius Institute will assist us greatly by enabling us to learn more through cultural and academic exchanges and research," said Mr Robinson.
Mr McGuinness added: "The availability of short courses and evening classes which will be offered through the Confucius Institute will provide opportunities for our people to learn more about China and its people and culture.
"I trust that this will open new doors to future partnerships across many spheres and I commend the University of Ulster on being selected to be part of the prestigious Confucius worldwide network." University of Ulster vice chancellor Professor Richard Barnett said the setting up of the institute was a significant milestone in Northern Ireland and Chinese relations.
"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," he said.
"In doing so, they have become a vital cog in the relationships China builds with the countries in which they operate."