Clubbing together

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 May, 2012, 12:00am
 

China, it seems, is in love with all things Scottish - the whisky, the salmon and perhaps most of all, the game of golf Scotland gave to the world. But this is no unrequited love. The feeling is entirely mutual.

Though still two years away from voting on the issue of independence from the UK, Scotland is looking for a long-term partner.

And it is becoming clear Beijing is at the top of its list of suitors as the country's leader, First Minister Alex Salmond, and his Scottish National Party busy themselves with forging links with foreign powers ahead of that independence poll.

From burgeoning business and educational links to countless cultural exchanges, it looks like the courtship is going well.

There have been gifts, like the giant pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang given to Edinburgh Zoo last year. But will it all lead to anything more than a marriage of convenience? And how will Scotland cope with the critics who are calling on it not to 'get into bed' with China without demanding assurances on human rights?

Only last week, Scotland's environment minister Stewart Stevenson told a visiting delegation from Shandong : 'China is a key market for Scotland and our commitment to the relationship is justified by results.'

Government insiders admit that 'spadework' is being done now with a view to what might happen after 2014. One said: 'I think we'd be accused of insulting people's intelligence if we said China wouldn't be important should we gain independence.

'The groundwork has been going on and has been for several years, but now it has added significance given the vote in two years' time.'

Now, with China contributing more growth to the global economy than the whole of the G8 put together, Scotland's politicians know the importance of romancing the dragon.

Salmond visited China in December and met Vice-Premier Li Keqiang to sign an agreement for increased cultural ties and discuss how relations between the two nations could be taken 'to the next level'.

After talks identifying further business and cultural links to build on those already made, Salmond said he was struck by the warmth shown to him.

He was also impressed by Li's knowledge of Scotland and his 'genuine interest in enriching our relationship'.

Salmond said: 'It is clear that since our first meeting in January, we have made significant progress on links between our two nations.'

The pair also discussed opportunities for the two countries to collaborate on knowledge-sharing and how to support developing relationships 'in the fields of health care, water management and infrastructure and aviation connectivity'. Salmond added: 'This relationship is justified by results and is growing ever stronger.'

He highlighted the major success of both salmon and whisky sales to China. Last year salmon exports were worth GBP21.4 million (HK$268.4 million) thanks to an agreement which allows direct exports. Whisky sales have soared after the granting of legal status for the drink in 2010, which meant that only genuine Scottish whisky could be sold in China.

Exports of the spirit, up 15 per cent on the previous year, reached ?0.1 million in the same period.

It is not a one-way street. Scottish investors are putting more money into China as confidence in the wider UK market continues to slide, according to a report last month.

Scotland was quick to build on historical contacts and links when China began to open up in the 1980s.

And the Chinese have been visiting Scotland in growing numbers in recent years. In 2005 there were 7,000 visitors from China - now that number has increased to 11,000.

Shandong's vice-governor Jia Wanzhi and his delegation were the latest tourists to take in the Scottish air earlier this month.

Stevenson welcomed the visitors by emphasising the importance of building strong links with China's second-largest province, which is home to 95 million people and a rapidly growing economy.

He said: 'The links between our two nations are going from strength to strength. We are committed to working more closely with Shandong in a number of sectors, including offshore energy, life sciences, education, agricultural research, culture, sports and tourism.'

In recent years educational links between the two countries have grown strong. Schools have started exchange programmes, while Scottish universities are exporting courses and the franchising of degrees to China. There are also growing cultural ties.

Audiences across China will celebrate Hogmanay - the Scottish new year's event - with a series of concerts from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

With support from the Scottish government's international touring fund, the RSNO will perform six concerts at five venues across the mainland in December and January.

Despite the purse-strings being tight back home, Scotland's culture secretary, Fiona Hyslop, announced GBP110,000 was being given to support the performances in Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Tianjin and Macau, as well as the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing.

She said: 'Scotland is known worldwide as a place of creative and cultural excellence. Overseas tours showcase Scotland's creative talent on a world stage, enhancing our global reputation.

'They also strengthen cultural and diplomatic links with countries identified as a priority in our framework for international engagement, such as China.'

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The number of golf courses in China, more than triple the 170 in 2004. The golf industry is forecast to grow by 30 per cent a year

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