Northern Ireland Bureau, 2020-2022 Strategy Report.

This (draft) document is the Northern Ireland Bureau’s strategy for engaging and developing a mutually beneficial relationship with the People’ Republic of China for the period 2020 to 2022.

1.2   The strategy is a continuation of the previous strategy approved by ministers and reflects the future operating environment, at home, in China and internationally. It also builds on the experience of the work to date of the Northern Ireland Bureau in China, its Northern Ireland partners and stakeholders.

1.3   The strategy also reflects the mission and objectives of the Northern Ireland International Relations strategy approved in 2014 and refreshed in 2018.

1.4   The strategy provides direction and purpose to the Northern Ireland Bureau to operate in China on behalf of the Executive, its departments and agencies and in support of other public sector bodies. It also acknowledges that the objectives and desired impact of this strategy will not be achieved solely by public bodies, but recognizes the contribution and role of other stakeholders, including NI Councils and the business community, in maximizing opportunities in our relationship with China. The Bureau seeks to positively influence government and other decision makers in China, to look favorably on Northern Ireland as a preferred region to work with and therefore encourage its provincial, municipal governments, its businesses, universities and other organizations to work with Northern Ireland organizations to achieve positive outcomes.

1.5   As a Devolved Administration, there are limitations to our international role as international relations remains mainly an excepted matter for the UK Government.  The Executive therefore is committed to the International Protocols and Treaties agreed to by the UK government and also those supported by the European Union and Ireland.  We are focused on those international objectives for which we have responsibility and that address our Programme for Government commitments. As we move much more into international relations, we are becoming more aware of the complexities and sensitivities around issues. Our intention, given the path we have travelled in Northern Ireland, is to try and contribute positively to those issues by sharing our experience with others. We will share our experience of developing our accountable government, addressing equality issues and the benefits of this approach towards enhancing business and economic growth, which requires stable, secure and non- contentious environments in which to operate.



2.1   The Northern Ireland Bureau in China (NIB) is the Executive’s diplomatic office based in Beijing in the British Embassy and with a Foreign Owned Representative Office outside the embassy compound. NIB represents the Executive, its Departments and their agencies and encourages and supports the work of other public bodies, councils, educational and commercial organizations doing business with, or hoping to do business with, Chinese organizations. The Bureau presents Northern Ireland’s official policy on devolved matters to the Chinese central, provincial and municipal government organizations. It also represents the Northern Ireland government and its agencies within the UK mission and will seek to ensure Northern Irelands interests are reflected in the development and implementation of policy and programmes in China and between the UK and China.

2.2   The Executive’s formal relationship started in 2012 with the visit to Northern Ireland by Vice Premier Liu Yandong. During a return visit to China in 2013 from then, the First and deputy First Ministers agreed to open a diplomatic office in China and the Chinese government agreed to open a Consular office in Northern Ireland. The Bureau initiated operations in China in September 2014 and now employs a Director from the Northern Ireland Civil Service and two locally engaged staff.



3.1   To strengthen the relationship with the government and people of China, and to identify areas that will be of mutual and practical benefit.


  • Increase trade and economic activity.
  • Increase the number of students exchanges between China and NI.
  • Collaborate on Science and Technology development.
  • Learn more about each other's Culture and Sport.
  • Share Best Practice in Addressing Global Priorities.
  • Develop Partnerships with Regions and Organisations in China.

3.3   The relationship with China has gone from strength to strength over that period and increased activity also in Northern Ireland, led by the Chinese Consulate. A number of highlights of the developing relationship are-  

  • 6 NI ministerial, 1 Assembly and 2 Head of Civil Service visits to China.
  • 3 senior Chinese ministers visit to NI
  • Over 12 senior provincial government visits to NI and 7 economic delegations.
  • NI hosts the third Regional Leaders Summit.
  • 104 senior Chinese officials attend the Regional Leaders Summit in NI.
  • 2 formal agreements with Liaoning and Hubei provinces
  • 4 NI Council and Chinese Sister City partnerships agreed.
  • Lobbied to secure market access for NI pork and dairy producers.
  • Trade has increased from £90 million to almost £200 million
  • 3 Chinese investments in NI companies.
  • Visitors from China increased from an estimated 40,000 to around 80,000
  • Hanban committed almost £3 million to NI Confucius institute to send  teachers to NI
  • Queens University Belfast launched the joint China Queens College in Shenyang.
  • Ulster University formal agreement with Dongbei University of Finance & Economics


3.4   The Northern Ireland presence in China has also increased. Invest NI employ 10 staff through their offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Shenzhen and Tourism Ireland now has a China team operating out of Shanghai.  Queens University and Ulster University employ officers to work with student recruitment bodies in China and there are 2 Diaspora organizations operating in China, Friends of Northern Ireland in China and Northern Ireland Connections.



4.1   The relationship has been successful in raising Northern Ireland’s profile with decision makers and persuading them that Northern Ireland is a place to do business with. This next period of operation for Northern Ireland, is building on those achievements and move more into the practical implementation phase. Whilst this has started, more work is needed particularly in the coordination; communication and pro-active approach required across and between Northern Ireland’s public organizations and working closely with the business, education and culture, sports community

4.2   China is currently the second largest economy in the world. The Belt and Road initiative is China’s major international global development strategy to enhance regional connections primarily across Asia and Africa but with opportunities for countries and regions in Europe. The UK has enjoyed a ‘golden era’, relationship with China since David Cameron visit in 2014. UK business to China has grown by around 14% over the last year and particularly in the services, pharma, health technologies and food. Irish exports to China have doubled over the last 5 years. They were just over £4 billion in 2018, over 400 Irish companies operating in China and 37 Chinese companies investing in Ireland. China’s economy has experienced a very fast pace of growth over the last 30 years and it continues to grow but government has slowed this down to the ‘new normal’ of just over 6%.

4.3   As the economy and income has grown, more Chinese people have gone overseas to study in universities and colleges. Chinese people now are also one of the most important international tourist segments as people want to travel more and tend to spend more on average than other tourist groups. In 2018, almost 400,000 Chinese tourists visited the UK, an increase of 17% on the previous year and almost 100,000 visited the island of Ireland, an increase of 46% from 2016 and there is a target to increase this to 200,000 by 2025.

4.4.  In China’s current ‘Five year Plan’ it hopes to take 50 million people out of the poverty zone by building 50 new cities and raising their standard of living. Production and construction fueled much of China’s early growth but as the traditional manufacturing market declines, China is concentrating on innovation and developing new sectors in the knowledge economy, which presents many more opportunities for international collaboration. The growth in Chinese incomes has also fueled more consumer demand and choice for international products.

4.5   As an economic power, China’s performance impacts and influences many countries particularly in the Asia Pacific region. China’s growth has also created challenges. The trade war with the United States puts direct and indirect pressure on a number of sectors including technology development, trade, students and tourism and also impacts on countries and regions hoping to have successful relationships with both countries. Changes in the geopolitical environment and global trade is also a wakeup call that Northern Ireland needs to be in more international markets and not dependent on one or two.

4.6   The pace of growth and urbanization in China also affects the traditional family unit, with some parents working in the cities and children cared for by grandparents. Looking after the elderly is now a challenge for the government in China as well as developing a healthcare system capable of looking after more people living longer.

4.7   As we see growth in exports to China, its investments overseas increasing, student numbers and visitors overseas increasing, international research partnerships and the exchange of public policy expertise there are many potential opportunities for Northern Ireland to benefit from working with China. Northern Ireland’s relationship with China has grown successfully from a small base but there is the potential for a lot more.

4.8   Uncertainty around Brexit has delayed potential investments to the UK but at the same time, many more Chinese organizations are now aware of the significance of Northern Ireland as a result of the coverage on Brexit negotiations in China.

4.9   We have seen an increase in our trade with China but not all our export capable companies are targeting China, or perhaps aware of the opportunities.

4.10 Whilst Northern Ireland is a lot closer to China now through the work of the consulate, the Confucius Institute and the Bureau etc. there is still an ’unknown’ about the opportunities, and culture and how to engage with China. Relationships and investing the time in them is essential in China and across all sectors, and getting to know more about each other including culture, sports and attitudes needs to be recognized. Taking the time to invest in and build relationships creates trust and confidence in moving forward on business and commercial activities.

4.11 Northern Ireland is sensitive to geo political changes. Post Brexit we need to proactively develop new international relationships and identify opportunities. We cannot take existing relationships for granted as changes in a government’s policy can have a major impact on Northern Ireland. In taking forward the next Northern Ireland in China strategy, all organizations with an interest in China, should combine our strengths and experience to deliver a coordinated, ‘Corporate NI’ approach. We must also plan and deliver programmes in NI that will raise awareness and enable organizations to contribute to a mutually beneficial relationship with China. 

The Full report can be downloaded from this PDF link

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