Jonathan Bell And The Confucius Institute: The Unregistered Interest

Much has been made of Jonathan Bell’s trip to China, it emerged that his trip was not paid for out of public money nor from the Confucius Institute at the Ulster University of Ulster – the Irish News reporting that a university spokeswoman said “no” to the question of if the institute had paid for the trip.

His Party, the DUP said that the trip was made in his role as honorary vice president of the Confucius Institute.

An issue arises then in his role with the Confucius Institute, a body aimed at “fostering closer ties between China and Northern Ireland… the CIUU will develop academic, cultural, economic and social ties between the two countries”. The Coleraine based Institute is linked with the Zhejiang University of Media and Communications in south-eastern China – a country where, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 44 journalists/members of the media are being held in prison.

Jonathan Bell 3 July 2015 register of interestsJonathan Bell is an Honorary Professor of Media and Communication at Zhejiang University, and he has declared this on the register of members interests at the Northern Irish Assembly [3 July register], under section 11 “Unremunerated Interests.” It’s a fairly thorough registry, disclosing that he visited China in 2011 and 2013 at the expense of Zhejiang University and CIUU respectively. [Ed – though he spells “accommodation” incorrectly.] [Kris – he also spells “Zhejiang incorrectly….]

The registry lets us know that he owns two properties and earns rent from one of them, it lets us know that his wife is his part-time secretary and researcher and that Peter Robinson’s son is his constituency manager and Peter Robinson’s daughter-in-law is another part-time secretary… what it doesn’t tell us though is that Jonathan Bell is an honorary Vice President of the Confucius Institute at University of Ulster.

Jonathan Bell 3 July 2015 register of interests 2Previously, Jonathan Bell and other ministerial colleagues attended an event in Stormont’s Long Gallery to “mark a new milestone in links between Northern Ireland and China”. Eight Northern Irish schools became “Confucius Classroom Hubs”, then-First Minister Peter Robinson said

“…the Executive places huge value in the important trading, cultural and education links between China and Northern Ireland, made possible in large part to the valuable knowledge provided by the Confucius Institute.”

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said

“Today we are celebrating the continued growth of the Confucius Institute and of the Classroom Hubs, something that will be of benefit not only to our local economy, but also to our society”.

So the question remains, if the Confucius Institute is of such benefit to our economy and the economical links with China that Jonathan Bell would want to nurture and explore (and rightly so,) surely there is a definite interest in his declaring of this at the assembly register of interests.

President and vice-chancellor of Zhejiang University of Media and Communications said of the Confucius Institute link with University of Ulster,

“We very much look forward to the relationship between China and Northern Ireland flourishing through the work of the universities through CIUU across all levels – academically, commercially and culturally.”

So if Jonathan Bell’s honorary boss, at Zhejiang University believes that the Confucius Institute can have any affect whatsoever on a commercial interest here in Northern Ireland, is this not considered something of interest? Surely it’s more of interest than Bell’s role as an honorary professor throwing in the occasional lecture if he happens to be in the area…

The NI Assembly Register of Members’ Interests states:

“The main purpose of the Register of Members’ Interests is to provide information of any financial interests or other material benefit which a Member receives which might reasonably be thought by others to influence his or her actions, speeches or votes in the Assembly, or actions taken in his or her capacity as a Member of the Assembly. Provision is also made for the registration of non-financial interests and other such information as the Assembly may from time to time require to be included. The registration form specifies twelve categories of registrable interests which are described below. Apart from the specific rules, there is a more general obligation upon members to keep the overall definition of the Register’s purpose in mind when registering their interests.”

Whilst an honorary VP position would not expect to have any financial reward, surely one might ask if his position within the institute might perhaps lead others to think that his actions, speeches or votes might be influenced by the role. Section 11 of the interests is specifically for “Unremunerated Interests”.


  • Granni Trixie

    Thanks for supplying yet more evidence of incestuous relationships. Trust Mick reads this in his quest for “facts” and NAMA.

  • Ernekid

    God only knows what the Chinese make of a Gobdaw like Bell.

  • babyface finlayson

    Not too sure what the story is here! Bell is apparently not gaining personally from this position.
    He makes no secret of it and it is supposedly of benefit to our society and economy.
    The morality of trading with China is another matter.

  • Dan

    A gullible mug

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Not so sure why you picked on poor Jonathan so much Barman. Here is some further observations
    47 MLAs declared that Family Members benefited from Office Cost Expenditure.
    Gerry Kelly, Fra McCann, Jennifer McCann, Rosaleen McCorley and Caral Ni Chuillin declared that they employ the brother in law of Caral to carry out repairs to their offices.
    Joe Byrne owns commercial property receiving rent.
    Stephen Farry got paid £50 an hour to do a wee written article.
    Dolores Kelly owns residential property in Belfast receiving rent.
    Anna Lo visited both the Hague & China.
    Trevor Lunn has interests in Property and Management.
    Sean Lynch share in residential property in Belfast receiving rent.
    John McAllister visited both Columbia and Cuba.
    Kieran McCarthy has a Holiday Apartment in Spain.
    Rosallen McCorley share in residential property receiving rent.
    Basil McCrea visited Boston, San Diego & Geneva.
    Michael McGimpsey holds down business directorships.
    David Mcilveen holds down business directorships and visited Helsinki.
    Michelle Mcilveen visited Switzerland and China.
    Daithi McKay owns residential property receiving rent.
    Karen McKevitt visited USA part paid by PSNI.
    Fearghal McKinney holds Director Position of SDLP Property Ltd.
    Mitchel McLaughlin visited Boston.
    Oliver McMullan owns a Pub which he receives rental income from.
    Mike Nesbitt received £2500 for Electoral Support by UUP Strangford Association.
    Robin Newton owns commercial property for which he receives rental income.
    Cathal O’Hoisin owns 20 acres of Agricultural land in Dungiven.
    Mairtin O’Muilleoir has Directorship and Share Holdings of Business Companies and receives income from owned commercial premises.
    Edwin Poots has share holdings in Iveagh Properties.
    Sean Rogers is a joint owner of a Holiday Home in Spain.
    Pat Sheehan owns 4 residential properties from which rental income is received.
    Jim Wells visited both Tanzania and Nigeria and receives part share of rents from 2 residential properties.

  • Much has been made of Jonathan Bell’s trip to China, it emerged that his trip was not paid for out of public money nor from the Confucius Institute at the Ulster Universityof Ulster – the Irish News reporting that a university spokeswoman said “no” to the question of if the institute had paid for the trip.

    Much has been made of nothing. And by the usual suspects… Have Sinn Féin stopped bleating about how it demonstrated the DUP’s greater concern for Business over Health?

    Significantly, if you read beyond the Irish News’ headline, you’ll find this detail

    “Ulster University did not cover the cost of flights relating to Jonathan Bell’s visit to China and only he can clarify details relating to his personal travel plans,” [the Ulster University spokeswoman] added.

    As with any honorary role with the Confucius Institute it would not be unusual for its funding body Hanban, or for Hubei University, our Confucius Institute’s partner university in China, to extend a private invitation and also cover the cost of any associated travel.” [added emphasis]

    I’d expect that trip to be registered, in due course.

    And then, after your initial comic attempt…

    An issue arises then in his role with the Confucius Institute…

    Ah, the old bait and switch.

    As for this…

    So if Jonathan Bell’s honorary boss, at Zhejiang University believes that the Confucius Institute can have any affect whatsoever on a commercial interest here..

    That’s not his ‘boss’, honorary or otherwise.

    And you’re mis-reading, deliberately or otherwise, what he said about “the relationship between China and Northern Ireland flourishing through the work of the universities through CIUU”.

    If you want to express concern over the NI Executive’s accommodation of China and the Confuscian Institute’s role here, in education for example, you might want to start by having a look in the Slugger archive…

    Here are a few posts to be going along with…

    “during the Derry visit, Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson were nowhere to be seen, surely mindful of their upcoming trade mission to China.”

    University of Ulster: “part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up”

  • Pete

    People seriously get outraged over something so utterly trivial?

  • Kevin Breslin

    Firstly, I don’t think you need to register honorary professorships any more than you would have to register your alma mater university.

    Secondly, I don’t think Mr Bell has to register trips he may be paying out of pocket, even if he was making a claim, said claim would be made on his return and receipts and things handed over.

    He does irk me a bit, but I have to agree Jonathan Bell doesn’t need to declare anything here.

    The only thing we could criticize was this clandestine silence about his delayed resignation which we can only assume was to allow him enough time to get back and to resign again on his return.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    Could one not make a reasonable case for the following:
    “The confucius institute is in some way, involved in the education sector in NI – it is also, according to Peter Robinson & Martin McGuinness – to have some affect on the economy – and Bell is an honorary VP of the organization…

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    Do you feel that if Simon Hamilton was an honorary VP of, say, Goldman Sachs, he *should* declare it on the register of interests?

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    Arlene Foster felt it pertinent to register that she has a family membership of the national trust… but being Honorary Vice President of an organization that, according to FM and DFM, will lead to benefit in economy and education… that isn’t worth of a declaration?

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    Nelson McCausland felt it necessary to register that he is a member of a library.

    William Humphrey felt it necessary to register the following: “Honorary Vice-Chairperson, Army Benevolent Fund, City of Belfast Branch with effect from 21st November 2011”

  • Kevin Breslin

    The register is mainly geared at things like conflicts of interests and the outside privileges that politicians gains. This is neither.

    There are places for Jonathan Bell to declare his successes from his meetings in China, they include the Assembly chamber, the electorate at the doorsteps and the DUP manifesto.

    So where’s the conflict?

    The Chinese influence on our educational system include operationally independent universities and schools, Chinese community educational networks, Manderin and Catonese language education, Oriental studies groups, British and Irish bilateral educational networks etc. With all due praise and or humility assigned, Bell is just one man in this.

  • chrisjones2

    I assume its a vehicle for flogging degree courses to Chinese students

  • Kevin Breslin

    May well be the case, he’s not going officially in his role though.

    On the resignation matter, do you think that surely Jonathan Bell could have resigned on schedule, then unresign and resign a few days later before he went off to PR China? Or was he really working on the backlog over those four days?

  • Kevin Breslin

    What’s the issue?

    Would you force politicians to sell off commercial premises and get a financial windfall rather than regular revenue?

    The Keynesian in me welcomes this being the one area where they have been proven to create jobs and circulate money in our economy, even as publicans, at least barstaff and musicians would get something, oh and those working up in Bushmills too and the Diedo premises in North Belfast.

    Is it any better putting the money into the bank for 20 years to help fund “Junior’s” political career?

  • PeterBrown

    If you think there is an issue here refer it to the Assembly Commissioner for Standards and in the opinion of most of the posters here get the same result as the total misrepresentation of the words of Jim Wells (rightly legally in my opinion got) from the PPS – sometimes there isn’t even smoke never mind a fire!

  • Croiteir

    Perhaps he should have been funded by Invest NI if it is of potential benefit to the economy?

  • chrisjones2

    I assume that given civil service bureaucracy that each time you resign there’s a lot of paperwork to sign then to read a new brief on what happened since you last resigned just before you resign again

  • chrisjones2

    Personally I dont really care> I assume whatever he was doing it was well intentioned. Indeed I would prefer that we exported most of our politicians to China where they might thrive in a state that is part paranoid, very corrupt, suppresses media and is still tied to ideology

  • T.E.Lawrence

    The issue is why Barman jumped only on one particular MLA ?

  • Kevin Breslin

    It’s a topical MLA. Collective criticism isn’t going to improve anything, it might even punish the most exceptional of politicians here. An individual one being criticised is not just another statistic.

  • Kevin Breslin

    He could make his SPAD work for a living, or the three excess DUP SPADS in OFMDFM fill out the form rather than be suspected of twiddling their thumbs drawing benefits.

  • Granni Trixie

    I too am content at the decision not to go down the legal route. Doesn’t mean to say that Wells (as he claims) has done no wrong morally. He was a Mnister of health not to mention that he claims to uphold Christian values. I hope he learns something from people’s reaction.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Have you had dealings with NI Invest, Croitier? I’d not wish it on anyone.

  • Granni Trixie

    On what basis is one awarded an honorary anything? Who is ellgble to apply or is it not a sweetie in the gift of the university to award to someone who can be “useful” to them? Rather like gifts over,say £25, is it not exactly the sort of reward a Minister or MLA ought to declare so that people can judge if reciprocity at play? Also, I imagine the Chinese value the visit by JB because of his mnisterial status.

    But none of this woukd matter a jot were it not for the farce of whch he is a part -going part time Minister – it is short changing the public which I trust will be remembered at the next election.

  • PeterBrown

    But are you content with the reasoning from the PPS which is in effect that he did not actually say what many including the author of this particular article claimed at the time and subsequently he did when all the footage was watched unedited which is why some of his accusers are now under investigation themselves?

  • Kevin Breslin

    Not at all, what the hell leverage does an honorary degree really have?

    How does it look if a university has to take away an award because a person wouldn’t reciprocate?

    A university would have to be really desperate to use these honorary gifts to a random politician in advance of future favours.

    Could you imagine this applying to a real degree and the university saying you know what Claire Hanna promote the Open University or else we’ll overturn your qualification?

    You virtually would put more info into the public domain that would allow someone to compromise a politician including from the use of criminality than could be used to determine real conflicts of interests.

    You are talking not about bribery but extortion here, that some how this honorary degree compromises the decision making of the minister in question, the other side of that coin (yes this is probably becoming a bit of a cliché for me at this point) is that the minister in question compromises the reputation of the university if he does something wrong politically. This is a double bind.

  • Granni Trixie

    I am not talking about anything illegal just about the way the world of influence and power works which is why I thnk if you are given any honours you should declare that you have been given it. Open and transparent, see?

    To reiterate – the real point for me is that It is absurd for a Minister to go abroad whilst at home washing his hands of a range of duties. Priorities?

  • Granni Trixie

    I remember hearing the tape on the radio and being shocked.

    But I would not want him to be made a martyr.
    He has showed himself up and has suffered consequences.

  • PeterBrown

    turns out the tape you heard and the allegations made based on it may not have been the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth (interestingly the author of this particular post who was I believe present and repeated the now dismissed allegation that he said this when in fact the quote is taken out of context has not responded yet)

  • Croiteir

    I have – on two projects – eventually wised up and forgot about them

  • Granni Trixie

    Just because prosecution service have decided not to proceed with a legal case does not mean that your assertion holds as regards the public dismissing the allegation especially after his abysmal performance on GMU with NOel Thompson.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Like the rest of us, then? Sorry to not have recognised the irony of a fellow victim.

  • Kevin Breslin

    With its low wages, long hours, militaristic based cultural psyche and isolationist agenda … heavens forbid we inflict our socio-economic and political culture on the Chinese!

  • PeterBrown

    I didn’t mention the public only the PPS (they wouldn’t even have public in their name in GB where they are the Crown Prosecution Service!) – but the public can and should dismiss the allegation as those who made it using apparently edited recordings now seem to be under investigation themselves – but you keep attacking the innocent (now that he has been proven not guilty) victim! the author remains conspicuous only by his absence….

  • Croiteir

    Hpwever iif you are a member of the great and good benefices will be bestowed on you – take this bash in London by the IEF, how that justifies funding is beyond my understanding.

  • Granni Trixie

    We are not going to agree.

  • PeterBrown

    I’m not sure what we are disagreeing about to be honest – it is now apparently clear when the quote is heard in full and not in a carefully edited form that he did not link gay marriage and abuse / neglect and having exonerated Wells that some those who accused him based on the carefully editing are now under investigation themselves about whether what they did was in fact more criminal than what they accused him of – what is there to disagree about?