The highest ranking female politician in China's Communist Party has begun an official visit to Northern Ireland today.

State Councillor Madame Liu Yandong is the only woman to occupy one of the 25 seats on the Chinese Communist Party's politburo and is one of just a few women in a senior position in the government.

She met First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness during the visit.

Mr Robinson said: "Our relationship with China has steadily enhanced over recent years and this is bringing benefit for all our communities.

Invest Northern Ireland now has an office in Shanghai and this is helping to foster trade links between us, and when Madam Liu visits both our universities, we will see a further development in the links between our higher education institutions.

"We welcome our friendship with the People's Republic of China and trust that the Chinese delegation will have an informative and enjoyable visit. I trust that this will be the start of many visits between our governments, institutions and citizens."

Tomorrow Madam Liu will visit the University of Ulster and Queen's University and will also undertake a number of private engagements before flying to London on Saturday afternoon to participate in the UK-China People to People Dialogue.

The Deputy First Minister said: "Over many years the Chinese community has made an immense contribution to our society and in the future I look forward to building on this relationship so we can learn from each other's knowledge and experience.

The First Minister and I are looking forward to discussing areas of mutual interest with Madam Liu ahead of our proposed visit to China later this year.

"We are keen to develop our cultural, business and academic links with China and we look forward to welcoming the Chinese artistic gymnastics team for pre-Olympic training in Lisburn later this summer."