A trade mission to China was not a waste of time, Martin McGuinness insisted today.
The North's Deputy First Minister batted away claims that he and the First Minster had failed to get near anyone of influence during their six day trip last month.
Mr McGuinness said: “It was not our fault that the Chinese Communist Party decided to change the date for their event (national congress).
“The advice that we received from diplomats on both the British and Irish side was that the First Minister and I should still go. I think it was a very important first entry into China and I think the opportunities that presents for us in the future are unlimited.”
Peter Robinson and Mr McGuinness escorted 35 firms and educational leaders to Shanghai and Hong Kong to help promote trade, investment and encourage research partnerships.
Tourism Minister Arlene Foster and Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill were also part of the delegation.
They had been invited by Madam Liu Yandong, a high ranking Chinese stateswoman, who travelled to Northern Ireland earlier this year.
However, their visit clashed with the 18th national congress of the ruling Communist Party of China during which a new Central Committee was selected.
At question time at the Assembly today, Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt claimed it had not been worthwhile.
Mr Nesbitt said: “Given the Chinese Party Congress coincided with your trip do you accept that you didn’t get within 1200 kilometre of anybody of any real political significance. Is that why the taxpayers have to fund a return trip so early in the New Year.”
A clearly irritated Mr McGuinness hit back and branded the question ignorant.
He said: “I think it is a very small minded question that has been asked by the leader of a party which is now clearly much smaller than it was before.”
Mr McGuinness also defended the decision to return to the Far East next year. He said there was an art to establishing relationships in China which could not established with just one visit.