The Red flag flying in Scotland

Crowds await the arrival of the two giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo on Sunday. Picture: Jayne Wright/TSPL
Crowds await the arrival of the two giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo on Sunday. Picture: Jayne Wright/TSPL
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The arrival of two pandas in Scotland courtesy of the Chinese government is not the only sign of growing links between the two countries, writes Jane Bradley

SOME historians believe there could be a link between Scotland and China dating back more than 1800 years, as fragments of tartan have been found next to the bodies of mummies with suspiciously reddish-blond hair in a tomb in the west of China. Darker connections formed in the early 19th century when Scots traders William Jardine and James Matheson ran contraband opium into China. But Scotland is now celebrating a link with the country which has a much more modern basis – and, politicians hope, a long-term economic future. On Sunday, representatives from the Scottish, UK and Chinese governments heralded the arrival of giant pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang as a major step in China-Scotland relations.

Just hours later, on a trip to China, First Minister Alex Salmond yesterday signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Culture between China and Scotland, committing the governments in Beijing and Edinburgh to supporting greater exchange and collaboration across the arts, creative industries, heritage and national collections. But despite recent developments, it is understood that during the negotiations to bring the giant pandas to Scotland, the Chinese authorities were keen to keep Scotland at arm’s length – preferring to deal directly with Westminster. The formal agreement was made between China and the UK government, but Scotland’s politicians say that the event proves a strong tie between China and Scotland specifically.

The Scottish Government drew up its “China Plan” – a document outlining Scotland’s plans for engagement with China – in 2008. However, in the speech made by the Chinese embassy’s charge d’affaires, Qin Gang, to welcome the pandas, he spoke at length of the “China-UK partnership” and the “growing links” between the “Chinese and British people” – with barely a mention of Scotland. But deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon insisted that Scotland will see huge economic and cultural benefits from the new arrivals.

“The pandas are here in Scotland at Edinburgh Zoo – there is no doubt that is going to be hugely important for Scotland,” she told The Scotsman.

However, Mr Qin said that despite the political focus on Westminster, his country’s relationship with Scotland had “developed rapidly” in recent years. Exports to China of products such as whisky and Scottish salmon have rocketed in recent years, while Confucius Institutes in Edinburgh and Glasgow have gone from strength to strength. “China and Scotland have identified some key areas for co-operation,” he said. “Especially in terms of green energy, tourism and education.”

Mr Salmond is currently on his third trip to the country since becoming First Minister, where he is meeting with vice-premier Li Keqiang to discuss business links – particularly in renewables, low carbon technologies, food and drink.

“China is one of the great economic success stories of the 21st century and for Scottish companies the prize of winning business in this fast-growth market is not only enticing but most definitely achievable,” says Robert Armour, chair of the Scottish Council For Development and Industry (SCDI).

CULTURE

A HISTORIC agreement signed this week by First Minister Alex Salmond and the Chinese government is the culmination of a growing cultural exchange between the countries.

The Memorandum of Understanding supports greater exchange and collaboration across the arts, creative industries, heritage and national collections – one of three major cultural agreements sealing links between the two nations. Examples of Sino-Scots cultural exchange in recent years include performances by both the National Ballet of China, left, and Shanghai Peking Opera Troupe at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival, a 2009 tour in China by Scottish Ballet, and collaborations between the National Museum of Scotland and both the National Geological Museum of China and the Chinese Aviation Museum.

Last week a nine-person delegation of museum directors from China were in Scotland to view some of most popular museums, including the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Salmond said yesterday that since he had met Chinese culture minister Cai Wu last year, the scope and level of cultural exchanges between the two nations had “multiplied”.

EDUCATION

MORE than 150 years ago, the first Chinese student graduating from a European University received a degree in medicine at the University of Edinburgh. Now Scotland attracts over 5,000 Chinese students each year in the further and higher education sectors. Six years ago, the Confucious Institute for Scotland, which promotes Mandarin learning, was set up as an offshoot of the University of Edinburgh.

“Scotland’s links to China have increased significantly over the past years with the government’s designated China Plan being a great support to various stakeholders engaged with China,” said Professor Natascha Gentz, chair of Chinese in the University of Edinburgh and director of the Confucius Institute for Scotland.

“All these efforts are essential components for training young people as global citizens, who can play an active part in adapting to but more importantly also shaping a future global society, in which China will play an important part. After all, it is not only about knowing China, but also China’s place in a changing world.”

A second Confucius Institute opened in Glasgow in October and there are now ten Confucious classroom hubs across Scotland.

A number of Scottish universities – including Heriot Watt, Edinburgh Napier and Edinburgh – have franchised campuses in China.

EXPORTS

ALTHOUGH it is more often thought of as a country which produces goods that are sold in the UK, rather than the other way around, there are certain Scottish products of which the Chinese cannot get enough.

China is one of the “emerging markets” in which whisky sales have spiralled in recent years – totalling £30.7 million between January and June this year. Sales have also been boosted by the Chinese government last year granting “geographical indication” status for Scottish whisky, which helps prevent the sale of counterfeit goods.

A large proportion of salmon eaten in China used to come from Norway. However, furious about Norway’s decision to award last year’s Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, inset, a democracy campaigner who is currently serving an 11-year jail sentence, Chinese authorities have all but barred imports of fish from the country.

Just a few months later, during a visit by the First Minister to China in January, Scotland and China made an agreement to grant an export health certificate which permitted direct exports of Scottish salmon to China. Since then, Scottish salmon producers have secured major sales to the nation. Official figures reveal that in the first six months of this year 2,347 tonnes of Scottish salmon were exported to the most populous country in the world.

At the signing of January’s deal, China’s vice-premier Li Keqiang, remarked that “even if 1 per cent of the people of China decide to eat Scottish salmon” then Scotland would have to double production to meet demand.

FASHION

THE Chinese are great fans of tartan. In 2006, a Chinese-Scottish tartan was created to strengthen links between the two countries, inspired by Chinese Consul General Madame Guo Guifang.

The design, created by the Strathmore Woollen Company and the Scottish Tartans Authority, was the first Chinese tartan – but not the last.

Earlier this year, a special black and white panda tartan, below, was designed to mark the arrival of Tian Tian and Yang Guang to Edinburgh. The design was based on the Gillespie Tartan, in a nod to Thomas Gillespie who established the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland in 1909.

Scottish cashmere is also huge in China – as a luxury alternative to the ubiquitous knits produced by Chinese firms. While Scotland has a reputation for producing fine cashmere yarns, the wool actually originates from herds of goats mainly living in China, as well as Tibet and parts of Mongolia.

Two years ago, Chinese textiles firm Ningxia Zhongyin Cashmere bought Loch Leven-based fine yarn spinning business Todd & Duncan, which produces cashmere for top fashion houses. Iconic knitwear brand Pringle of Scotland was also bought by a Chinese firm more than a decade ago – SC Fang & Sons Company.

TOURISM

AFTER decades of restricted travel, mainland Chinese residents are currently able to take organized leisure tours to over 100 countries that have “Approved Destination Status” – including the UK. The major omission on that list, until December 2004, was the United States. By 2020, China is projected to produce 100 million outbound trips going to every corner of the globe, making it the largest producer of tourists in the world by far.

The latest figures from VisitScotland show that in 2009, 12,000 Chinese tourists came to Scotland – spending a total of £6 million. VisitScotland expects that to increase as disposable incomes rise in the fast-growing Chinese economy.

The overall outbound trip volume from China has grown at an annual average of 22 per cent since 2000 – however, the majority of travellers do not venture further than Hong Kong.

Around three-quarters of Chinese visitors to Scotland arrive as part of a UK tour starting off in London; the rest generally travel as part of a multi-country trip.

CHINESE IN SCOTLAND

THE Chinese population in Scotland exceeds 16,000 and the Scotland-China Association hosts cultural events in Glasgow and Edinburgh to foster friendship and understanding between the communities. The association is also the parent organisation of the China Business Club, which was started in 1995 to offer advice to Scottish entrepreneurs planning to do business in China. One such entrepreneur, Tam Lang, runs Shanghai’s only Scottish bar – after working for years in the pub trade with Scottish & Newcastle.

However, the history of Scots living in China goes back much further. Scots missionary Eric Liddell, below, has museums and statues in honour of his charitable work in China in the early half of the 20th century. In 1991, a memorial headstone, made from Isle of Mull granite, was unveiled by Edinburgh University at the site of a former Japanese PoW camp in Weifang, Shandong Province, about six hours’ drive from Beijing, where Liddell died, having been interned there during the Second World War. Its rediscovery was largely the result of the determination of Charles Walker, an engineer working in Hong Kong, who felt one of Scotland’s great heroes was in danger of being forgotten, and decided to search for the grave.

POLITICAL TIES

WITH average GDP growth of 10 per cent for over a decade, China is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies – and leaders hope that political and economic links with Scotland could be beneficial.

The Scottish Government has founded a Scottish Affairs Office in Beijing – ensuring that officials are well placed to capitalise on any opportunities in the country.

Well known for its “panda diplomacy”, the Chinese government’s decision to loan a pair of giant pandas to Scotland has been seen as a major step in links between the two countries.

Alex Salmond at the weekend heralded the arrival of Tian Tian and Yang Guang as a symbol of the “great and growing relationship between Scotland and China”.

About 50 Scottish companies already have a presence in China, including temporary power supplier Aggreko – which won the contract to power the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympic games – and microchip maker Wolfson Electronics.

There are likely to be many opportunities for Scotland to cash in: in life sciences, where China is likely to require significant upgrading in its hospital infrastructure; in the green energy industry, as China attempts to cut is emissions; and in the financial services industries. First Minister Alex Salmond