Speech by Ms Meifang ZHANG at the Reception in Honor of China's Lunar New Year and Her Inauguration as China's New Consul General in Belfast

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good Evening!

What a fantastic crowd! Thank you so much for honoring me with your presence. As the new Chinese Consul General in Belfast having arrived here a month ago, I am thrilled to meet old friends here while making new acquaintances.

All of you present here tonight are good friends of China and the Consulate. Over the years you have been firm supporters of China-UK and China-Northern Ireland (NI) friendship and cooperation, and played a very positive role in the development of such relations. I’d like to pay my highest respect and extend my heartfelt thanks to all of you, and I do hope that in the coming years, we can further enhance our exchanges and cooperation, deepen our friendship, and work together for the new chapter in China-UK and in particular China-NI relations.

Neither UK nor Belfast is new to me. When I was a student at Cambridge in 1993, I had a chance to tour around this area. More than 20 years after I return here, I am still enchanted by such natural beauty as the Giant’s Causeway, the Carre-a-Rede Rope Bridge, etc. I can see why “Game of Thrones” chose this wonderful land for the filming of most of its episodes, I believe. After my arrival, wherever I went, I was deeply moved by the hospitality and friendship of the people of NI. What’s more, I am very much encouraged by the growing bilateral relations between China-UK and China-NI. I am confident of fulfilling the mission entrusted to me by my country.

William Blake said, “Great things are done when men and mountains meet.” I agree. And so too for women, one must presume. The conquering of mountains we can do together.

First, my confidence comes from the solid foundation laid by my predecessor and staff old and new who have made great efforts over the past four years. Second, my confidence stems from the enthusiasm of the Chinese community, who touched my heart when they greeted me at the airport, in the cold, on the day of my arrival. I also felt the strong sentiments which the overseas Chinese attached to their country of origin and the country where they now reside in our conversations. Third, my confidence is derived from friends from all walks of life in NI who have impressed me by their keen interest in China’s culture and a desire to cooperate with China. All this has further increased my confidence of fulfilling the mission.

The weather may be a bit chilly here. But the heart of the land and people warm that of its latest addition to the community. And for this, I thank you.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

2019 will be an important year for China-UK and China-NI relations. First, this years marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Over the past 70 years, under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, China has achieved great achievements, won world acclaim during its rise in prosperity, abundance and strength as an important member, contributor to the world community. More specifically, over the past forty years since the country’s reform and opening-up, China has increased its total economic output 30 times with GDP in 2018 scoring 13.6 trillion US dollars, bringing 740 million people out of poverty, thus contributing more than 30% to global economic growth. China has now become world’s second largest economy and world’s largest manufacturer, and will soon realize the goal of establishing an overall moderately prosperous society. And we are committed to further deepen reforms and expand the country’s opening-up effort. Today, with the deepening of globalization, the Belt and Road Initiative is bringing China and the UK, and China and NI closer, providing impetus to China-NI cooperation while building together a community of shared future for mankind. In April, China will hold the Second Forum on International Cooperation of One Belt and One Road. In November, we will hold the Second China International Import Expo. We are looking forward to the active participation of the UK and NI. We hope to see more NI visitors to China to experience for themselves a modern China-- high-speed rail, Ali Pay (similar to paypal), e-commerce and even our shared bicycles.

Second, it is a good opportunity for us all to contribute to the golden era of China-UK relations. This year marks the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations at charge d’affaire’s level between China and UK. Since then, significant progress has been made in the political, economic, cultural, scientific and technological fields. What I want to mention in particular is that President Xi Jinping paid a successful historic visit to UK in 2015 and decided with the British leader of the time to establish a global comprehensive strategic partnership which ushered in the “Golden Era” of China-UK relations. In 2018 the total bilateral trade volume between China and UK reached $80 billion, nearly 18 times that of when I was a student at Cambridge 25 years ago. Being both permanent members of the Security Council of the United Nations, China and the UK shoulder special responsibility for world peace, development and security. Both sides should continue to advocate for a multilateral trading system, promote an open world economy and play greater roles participating in the structural reform and construction of the global governance.

Third, I see us in the midst of writing more new chapters in the annals of China- NI relations. Recent years have witnessed the overall development of friendly cooperation between China and NI. In my interactions with friends in NI, people shared with me many stories of successful cooperation, which I cannot emphasize enough here. First is that both sides want to implement further the results achieved at the third and fourth China-UK regional leaders’ summits. Second, the cooperation between the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (hereinafter referred to AVIC) and NI’s Thompson Aero Seating Ltd has become an exemplary model. In 2016 after being merged, Thompson increased its employment from 400 to over 1400. New plans to increase production capacity will create another 2000 jobs, making 3400 job opportunities as a whole. This is very encouraging. Third, following China’s decision to lift the ban on British boneless beef from cattle less than 30 months old last June and to increase import of the UK’s dairy products using milk from a third country, it is hoped that the agri-food processing industry and other related industries in NI will seize this opportune time in our relationship by actively exploring China’s market. I cannot stop here without mentioning the contributions made by the Confucius Institute at Ulster University. It has been very popular in NI as it has not only enabled more NI people to learn, understand about China but also contributed significantly to promoting the exchanges and cooperation between the two sides. In 2019 we hope to redouble our efforts in creating even more highlights from our mutually beneficial cooperation.

I remain most intrigued by the seas of possibility that lay before us all. And what better place to understand such seas, and manifest therefrom together, than right here in Belfast- where the ready shores of Northern Ireland meet with the nourishing waters that connect all the world. And it is the connection I wish to see furthered, one between not only NI, the United Kingdom and the People’s Republic of China, but between hope and possibility.

May I close by wishing you all a happy Chinese New Year. This coming year is the Year of the Pig. In Chinese Zodiac sign, the Pig symbolizes good fortune, prosperity and success. With this, may I wish you all good health, happiness, well-being and prosperity!