Scotland's 5-year China plan

Updated: 2011-12-30 11:24

By David Bartram (China Daily European Weekly)

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Scotland's 5-year China plan

Tian Tian meets visitors at the Edinburgh Zoo. The female panda arrived in the United Kingdom with male bear Yang Guang on Dec 4. Photos Provided to China Daily

Edinburgh's engagement with Beijing, spanning educational and economic links, pays off

Back in 2006, the Scottish government released a paper setting out a plan of action to ensure that Scotland responded to China's emergence on the global stage by strengthening ties to the mutual benefit of both nations.

Entitled "Scotland's strategy for stronger engagement with China", the blueprint highlighted key areas, including educational, economic and cultural links, to build bilateral relationships.

"The rise of China is changing the world," wrote Tom McCabe, then a member of the Scottish parliament, in the foreword to the document. "How we, in Scotland, respond to the opportunities and challenges that flow from this will be critical for our country's future."

Five years on, and with two giant pandas settling into their new home at Edinburgh Zoo and Scotland's First Minister the toast of Beijing on a recent visit, the Scottish government can feel satisfied with the progress, even if it's acknowledged that there is plenty of work still to be done.

Much of the credit for increasing understanding of China in Scotland falls upon the Confucius Institute for Scotland, based in Edinburgh and winner of the Confucius Institute of the Year award for the past four years.

"We saw ourselves from the beginning as a comprehensive institute that covers all the areas and works across business, education and culture," says Natascha Gentz, director of the Institute. "These areas are all interconnected so it is the best way to increase interest in China."

Scotland is in fact home to two Confucius institutes; a second opened in Glasgow in October. Such centers provide an opportunity for those wishing to explore China further. While there are more than 300 Confucius institutes worldwide, placing two within an hour's drive of each other in Scotland shows a healthy demand for knowledge of China.

"People can use us as a resource as we provide services for the community and for whoever wants to engage with China," says Gentz. "For example we have a great variety of people coming to our language courses. We have all ages, from school pupils to our oldest student who was over 70. Many of them have professional interests but some are just doing it for pleasure or want to visit China as a tourist."

Beyond language lessons, the institute attempts to develop a wider interest in China throughout the community via a series of public lectures and cultural events. These not only encourage engagement with China across Scotland, but also help redefine China's image.

"We reach out to the wider community by originating large cultural events like the film festival we ran as well as a photographic exhibition of documentary photography. I think many people in the community are still not really aware of the rapid transformation going on in China.

"There is still this conservative image of a Communist country. We hope to stimulate people into coming to our events and changing their view."

Edinburgh Zoo, which will be home to giant pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang for the next 10 years, might be another place where ordinary people across Scotland become more aware of this new, modern China.

"We have been looking forward to this moment for five years now, since we first embarked on this epic journey to bring the giant pandas to Scotland," says Hugh Roberts, chief executive of Edinburgh Zoo. "The arrival of Tian Tian and Yang Guang is a historic occasion for the zoo, for Scotland, and for the UK as a whole.

"It is also a highly visible statement of the growing momentum to improve international relations between the UK and China, and a sign that we can further cooperate closely on a broad range of environmental and cultural issues, as well as commerce."

Scotland's 5-year China plan

Visitors head to the Edinburgh Zoo to see pandas from China.

While it is hoped that the agreement will cement ties between Scotland and China as well as raise awareness of environmental issues, it is also hoped that the pandas will prove money-spinners for the zoo. It might even encourage more Sino-Scottish joint ventures.

Jie Song is the chairperson of the Scotland-China Chamber of Commerce (SCCC), which offers free advice to businesses in both Scotland and China wanting to trade between the two.

"There was already the China-Britain Business Council with its main office in London, but even though they have a Glasgow office as well we found that a lot of Scottish companies wanted help from somewhere with a specific understanding of Scotland and China," Song says.

"We have strong links with China, something most companies in Scotland don't have. A lot more companies are trying to do business between Scotland and China these days, and a lot of Scottish companies are very eager to get into the Chinese market."

The SCCC offers a landing point for Scottish companies in China through its offices in several major cities, including Beijing and Shanghai. The chamber also provides support for Chinese firms looking to expand into Scotland, especially those looking to source new investment in the country.

It is hoped that by developing a network between business, government and other organizations in Scotland and China, bilateral trade will not only grow, but become more focused and mutually beneficial to both sides. One Scottish speciality offers a particularly good opportunity for such growth in China - Scotch whisky.

"Scottish businesses producing whisky all know that China is a big market," Song says. "We have a lot of small whisky companies approach us asking about how to target the Chinese market. They are small, and don't have enough resources to research this themselves.

"They need a little bit of help and directing, but they can definitely be successful. Sales of whisky in China are tripling every year at the moment."

In 2010, whiskey producers across Scotland were given a boost when First Minister Alex Salmond secured a deal in China to give Scotch whisky Geographical Indication of Origin (GI) status. This meant that any product labeled as "Scotch Whisky" in China must come from Scotland.

Aside from whisky, another area thriving in Scotland is education. The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), the leading accreditation authority in Scotland, is taking steps to adapt its domestic qualifications to take greater account of China.

"The Scottish government's 'Stronger Engagement with China' policy charged SQA with delivering national qualifications in Chinese," says Helen Campbell from SQA. "The development and success of these qualifications has assisted in stimulating interest in learning Chinese languages in Scotland."

SQA also offers qualifications to students in China, in a move designed to engage Chinese students with Scotland's educational system.

"Since 2004, SQA has established educational links with China, working with the Chinese Service Centre for Scholarly Exchange to support the development of a modern and contemporary China. This has been as part of the Scottish Government's International Engagement Strategy with China.

"Twenty-seven Chinese universities now offer Scottish Higher National Diploma (HND) qualifications. SQA's HNDs have enhanced the prospects of students and are making a real difference to their careers, their communities and the economic development of China."

By building strong foundations, particularly in education, there is hope that it will help encourage a rapid development of Scotland's links with China in the coming years.

"It's not a question of direct benefits, but more about recognizing China's new role in the world," says Gentz at the Confucius Institute for Scotland. "For young people it's now essential for their career opportunities in a competitive globalized market to know more about China.

"This is a new player in global affairs so it's important that Scotland provides long term investment to increase the partnership. That's not only in teaching the language but learning about China as well."