Norman's News -The Belt and the Road to our post BREXIT prosperity?

Added Tuesday, January 9 2018

BREXIT issues will dominate 2018 with its usual slew of issues that for those of us not directly involved will not be clear until they’re over. My working assumption (I do trust it’s not just hope prevailing over despair) is that on our little island, freedom of travel, digital commerce, high value manufactured goods and energy will be easily soluble issues with others including those of food following on behind with the continuing growth of our cross-border relationships.

At Catalyst Inc, our 2017 Interreg cross-border project, the NW Centre for Advanced Manufacturing (NWCAM), has got off to a good start with PhD students beginning their research careers under the guidance of a team of Principal Investigators led by Prof Eileen Harkin-Jones and under the joint purview of some of the island’s best med tech companies.

On a wider geography, I was pleased to have played a small role in what looks like the beginnings of a major engagement between the UK and China. I spoke at one of the sessions about Advanced Manufacturing in NI and the links with China. We also heard from our two new(ish) and brilliant public companies, Kainos and First Derivatives. Their global maps of sales and relationships are truly remarkable with a noticeable gap only in China itself; hopefully the event will begin to rectify that.

We learned also just how well our engineering sector is doing with the welcome investment from China and elsewhere. In particular, Thompson Aeroseating, which is now part of the huge Aviation Industry of China. Similar signals come from the new stronger links to Airbus and from the success of our engineers in Tyrone grounded on the success of Terex. All in all, my only negative thought was the limited media reaction here. Surely we must make more effort to tell our own people these stories, the meaning behind them and the positive impacts that flow from them. I should add that I had a similar sentiment when participating in a Newton Fund event in London. It became clear that our event in NI was only one of many events that week between various UK science sectors and their Chinese counterparts.

Whatever BREXIT becomes, our future is surely out in the world at large and somehow time has to be found to create the relationships, trust and respect that will lead to mutually beneficial transactions. In many parts of the world we have our diaspora links which are easy to activate, In China we have also an historical card to play, Sir Robert Hart. Born in Portadown in 1835, he went on to become a British diplomat and official in the Imperial Chinese government from 1863 to 1911.

As you will find from the BBC website “The British made him a baronet….and the Chinese appointed him (among many other honours) an Iron Hatted Duke, but his nickname in Beijing mattered more than any of his titles; they called him, "our Hart". It was a tribute to his unique role in China's history and its relations with the West…. he is the only figure among the "foreign devils" of those days remembered with affection. He used his position to serve Chinese, not just British, interests.”

In his name, surely we should make China a serious priority for some of our BREXIT attention.