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Junior Ministers Michelle McIlveen and Jennifer McCann today signed an agreement with Hubei Province in China to promote mutual co-operation in strategic policy areas including trade, education and tourism.

The Junior Ministers signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Madam Wang Ling, Deputy Director of Hubei Provincial Government, during her visit to Stormont Castle.  The MOU will help identify priority activities for co-operation, promoting business and cultural links and encouraging partnership between the two regions.

Speaking at the signing, the Junior Ministers commented: "An important element of our International Relations Strategy is to develop mutually beneficial international relationships. The agreement with Hubei Province is a significant milestone in our goal to strengthen our global economic position and to develop partnerships with key regions. 

"Although the scale and size of the two areas are very different, the potential opportunities for co-operation and partnership are vast. We have already seen significant developments in our growing relationship with China, such as the opening of the Chinese Consulate in Belfast and the increasing success of local firms in securing trade deals. We believe this MOU will act as a platform to build even stronger economic ties, create jobs and prosperity, encourage exchange and promote tourism.

"We are honoured that Madam Wang is visiting Belfast and we look forward to the next stage in our working relationship with Hubei Province."

Madam Wang Ling is in Northern Ireland for a programme of meetings with political and business leaders and educationalists.  She said: "Today's signing of the Friendly Cooperation Agreement between the two parties will strengthen and promote the practical cooperation between Hubei and Northern Ireland, especially in economy culture and education, filling it with new vitality and energy."

Chinese Consul General Madam Wang Shuying commented: "I believe this signing is significant progress in the friendly relationship between the two regions.  Our mission here is to enhance mutual understanding and friendship, and we will do our best to support the development of co-operation between China and Northern Ireland."

A Memorandum of Understanding was also signed between Hubei Normal University in Hubei Province and Ulster University's Confucius Institute. The agreement aims to foster greater links between the two organisations and build on the work of the Confucius Institute and Confucius Classroom Hubs at Ulster University.

Acting Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alastair Adair, said: "Ulster University's Confucius Institute plays a key role in the promotion and teaching of Chinese language and culture throughout Northern Ireland. It facilitates the training of language teachers, cultural and academic exchanges and research, all of  which benefit the local economy.  It also offers the business community an unrivalled opportunity to build links with China and tap into one of the world's largest export markets.

"We welcome this partnership with Hubei Normal University and look forward to working with them closely in the future."