Every trade delegation supported by Holyrood or Westminster to China does eventually prompt the same question. The suggestion that closer business links simply encourage and support an authoritarian regime always raises its head.
This time the arrival of Tian Tian and Yang Guang here seems to have softened the controversy. It is none the less real. I can sympathise with Labour MSP Jenny Marra in wanting to put pressure on First Minister Alex Salmond to highlight the matter on his visit to Beijing. But diplomatic pressure can achieve so much.
Sanctions are plainly a non-starter in the current climate. We have to foster the belief that wider trade links will eventually prompt a more liberal regime. The plain fact is change can only come from internal pressure.
That is coming gradually from the shifts of population from rural to urban areas. It is coming too from demands from an increasingly prosperous middle class. That section could, of course, press for an even more strict regime if it sees any threat to its prosperity. But the likelihood is that it will challenge congestion in the cities, pollution, and restrictions on artistic and literary freedom.
The question then will be whether the Communist Party adapts or resorts to the autocracy that has dominated most of China’s history.
Should we just offer to let the Chinese keep Alex Salmond and we can keep the pandas?
He would be a great tourist attraction for China and create even greater interest in Scotland, doing a little jig every time someone pointed a camera in his direction.
He has been doing this for years and never seems to get tired of it. Even more authentic behaviour, such as eating Tunnock’s teacakes and drinking Irn-Bru in his breaks, would enthrall the crowds as well.
A win-win situation for everyone, whatever your political persuasion here in Scotland. Ah, the options provided by panda diplomacy.
The new pandas at Edinburgh Zoo are the perfect emblem of modern Scotland: sedentary yet voracious, docile yet vigorously territorial.
With the simple addition of an oversized wide-screen television in their enclosure, the Edinburgh pandas would be the quintessential contemporary Scottish citizens.