This photograph shows Peter Robinson being made an honorary professor at a Chinese university several months ago — something only made public last night.
The picture, taken in May during the First Minister’s trip to China in May, was taken beside a wooden bust of Chinese philosopher Confucius during a ceremony at Hubei Normal University.
DUP junior minister Jonathan Bell, who was himself made an honorary professor by a Chinese university two years ago, said that he did not believe Mr Robinson would use the title in Northern Ireland.
Mr Bell told the News Letter that the award – which is not in a specified subject – was recognition from one of the “elite universities” in China.
“It’s a mark of not only international friendship, but recognition of the contribution by the person to developing relationships between Northern Ireland and the People’s Republic of China.
“It’s a significant award and from a university which is a partner with the University of Ulster in delivering the Confucius Institute and the Confucius Classrooms.”
The Confucius Classrooms, launched by Mr Robinson earlier this month, involves the Chinese government paying for 30 teachers to teach Mandarin and Chinese “cultural awareness programmes” to schoolchildren.
Mr Bell said that he did not believe that Mr Robinson – who last night flew to the US with Martin McGuinness on a trade mission – would use his honorary title in the UK as he was “a very unassuming person”.
But the Strangford MLA – who in recent years has himself built links with the world’s largest trading economy – said that in China it would be “quite a significant thing”.
And he said that an “imminent” announcement about the direct importation of British meat and dairy products into China could have big implications for Ulster farmers.