David Sterling travelled to Beijing to attend the Second One Belt & One Road Forum 25th April where he presented a speech on our regional cooperation at the Sub-National Cooperation Summit.
After the official opening ceremony which took place on 26th April, David Sterling and Tim Losty met with Vice-Minister Wang Chao, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. European Division to discuss the mutually beneficial relationship with China and future cooperation on economic, education and research exchange programmes. Northern Ireland also hopes to have our businesses at the Beijing Expo and the CIIE expo in November.
News of our participation in the Belt and Road Forum was reported on China Daily.
David Sterling’s speech at the forum.
Distinguished leaders, ladies and gentlemen, nimen hao.
It is a great pleasure for me to be with you today and I would like to thank President Li Xiaolin from the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries for the invitation to speak at this very important event.
I would also like to take this opportunity to recognise the tremendous support Northern Ireland has received from the Friendship Association over the years.
Northern Ireland opened its office in China in September 2014.
We are a small region of 1.8 million people. So our strategy is to develop relationships with provinces in China which have similar economic histories and similar plans for industrial growth and the delivery of world class public services.
We want to forge relationships in those areas which are mutually beneficial. We like to think we are big enough to matter and small enough to care.
I look at the objectives of the Belt and Road initiative - promoting economic prosperity, regional cooperation and developing understanding and learning. These are objectives which Northern Ireland shares and we are confident we can contribute value.
As a devolved government, we have the power to set strategy and policy in relation to our economy, education, health, infrastructure, agriculture and justice systems.
But if we are to be successful in these areas we must look outwards and build connections with regions with similar interests and ambitions.
In the past the Northern Ireland economy depended on heavy engineering and manufacturing and our economy thrived. Because we made some of the best products in the world, the world came to us.
However, we did not respond quickly enough to international market forces and changes in demand for those products. As a result our economy declined but we learnt that we need to think globally and develop international connections.
Northern Ireland has always placed a value on education and we continue to produce some of the best-qualified students in the UK. We have used education as the driver for change in re-balancing our economy.
Our universities and vocational colleges work with industry and government to produce students that attract international companies and develop our own business clusters.
Almost 900 international companies have invested in Northern Ireland and we are particularly pleased to see Chinese Companies investing and re-investing.
Northern Ireland has one of the fastest growing technology clusters in the UK with particular expertise in Financial Services Technology. Belfast is the world’s most business-friendly City of its size and is home to many global business services.
We have a strong engineering heritage and many successful Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering companies. We have a global reputation for food safety and our food and drink producers are dedicated to traceability and passionate about quality.
And we make great Irish Whiskey.
Northern Ireland is one of the top regions for life and health sciences, cyber security and creative industries. And we are home to the Titanic – the great ship was built in Belfast – and the Game of Thrones series, which was mostly filmed in Northern Ireland.
International cooperation is very important to us. It grows market opportunities for businesses that leads to job creation and prosperity but also provides opportunities to learn from each other.
In 2017, Northern Ireland was privileged to host the third UK-China Regional Leaders Summit and we signed formal agreements with our friends in the provinces of Liaoning and Hubei.
Our cities of Belfast, Derry City & Strabane, Newry & Mourne and Fermanagh Omagh have also signed agreements with Shenyang, Dalian, Changchun and Huangshi and there have been a number of visits from each side to look at innovation, trade development, food safety, education and research.
Our universities and colleges are also very active in our partner provinces exchanging knowledge, students and teachers and we look forward to further collaboration on issues of global importance such as health care, sustainable development and conflict resolution.
Northern Ireland is a small country and perhaps a few years ago many of you may not even have heard of us, but despite the UK’s decision to leave the European Union we will still be well-connected to Ireland and Europe after departure.
As well as China, we have international offices in the European Union and North America and we will increase our international activity which should help to increase the potential impact of our relationships with our partner provinces in China.
Over this next year we will be working with these partner provinces on:
• an innovation mission;
• an agri-food and sustainability programme;
• health policy exchange including cancer research and elderly care; and
• investigating more connections between Northern Ireland councils and cities in China.
Finally, I want to thank the Chinese Government for its commitment to building a long and strategic relationship with Northern Ireland. This is evident in the great work being done by your Consulate in Belfast, led by your wonderful Consul-General Madam Zhang.
Our relationship is working because it is built on mutual trust and respect, the promotion of business for mutual benefit and the strength of our people to people contact.
We like each other and enjoy each other's company and hospitality. So I’d like to close by inviting you all to visit us in Northern Ireland, whether for business or for pleasure, you will be very welcome.