05 September 2013

S4M-06993 Links with China

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-06993, in the name of Graeme Pearson, on enhancing enterprise for Scotland and China. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises and celebrates both the historical and contemporary links that exist between Scotland and China; notes that China is currently the second largest economy in the world, with many experts predicting that it will overtake the US as the largest within the next decade; supports all efforts to foster trade links between Scotland and China, including establishing a direct flight path from Scotland to China, but is concerned that visa regulations are not conducive to Chinese businesses operating in Scotland and vice versa; endorses the educational links that exist between Scotland and China, including what it understands is the high number of Chinese students who choose to study at Scottish universities and the links between schools in the south of Scotland and their Chinese counterparts; welcomes these links, and notes calls for the encouragement of the learning of Mandarin and Cantonese in Scottish schools and their twinning with Chinese schools.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I thank Graeme Pearson for providing the opportunity to have this important debate.

None of us will be any more than a couple of metres from something that has some Chinese technology in it. Very few of us will be more than a couple of generations away from people in our family who went to and engaged directly in China. In my case, a rather distant cousin of mine, James Jeffrey, died in Shanghai at the age of 33 in 1870. The connections between Scotland and China go a very long way back. We should not get too complacent about them, because we played a not too creditable role in the exploitation of the Chinese population in the opium industry, but the world moves on and I think that we are in a substantially better place.

My wife and I had the great privilege to go to China immediately after the end of the cultural revolution; we arrived there on 4 November 1978. We had had our names on the waiting list for a couple of years. When we put our names on it, we could not afford to go, so the delay was welcome as it enabled us to save up enough money.

When we went to Beijing in November 1978, we found a country substantially different from that which one would find today. We saw not a single privately owned car while we were in China in the 1970s. Today in Beijing, the number of cars per 100 households is 60. That compares to something like 35 per 100 households in London and somewhere in the 40s per 100 households in Edinburgh and Glasgow. That is not all good news, but it is a very strong indicator of the economic progress that is being made. All the premium car makers have assembly plants out there. Indeed, the MG is now a Chinese-owned brand.

We also had the immense privilege to go down to Kunming in Yunnan province—that was accidental; we had not intended to go there. Kunming is not well known, but it is the other end of the road to Mandalay, which most people will know about. We were told—this was not verified, but it could certainly be true—that we were the first westerners to go there since the revolution in the 1940s.

The history of Scotland’s engagement with China was writ large in that visit in 1978. The English that people spoke—and it was spoken widely—was spoken with a Scottish accent, because the original tutors of English to the Chinese were Scots missionaries. Not everything about engagement with the Scots missionaries was good, but that was. Businesses such as Jardine Matheson in Hong Kong, which has Scottish roots, continue to this day.

In 1978 we were some five months away from a referendum on establishing a Scottish assembly—the vote was held on 1 March 1979. Everywhere I went in China in 1978 I was asked questions about that referendum. Then, just as now, the Chinese knew about and were interested in what was going on in Scotland.

The motion before us touches a lot of important buttons. I will say a word or two in my concluding remarks about air links. As transport minister, I probably had five or six meetings with Chinese interests and I know that the current minister does the same. The barrier that we have is a rather odd one: it is the difficulty around the Boeing Dreamliner, which is the only aircraft that fits the runway lengths that we have here and can go to China in a single hop. There is actually a huge advantage for Scotland, because Edinburgh and Glasgow airports are closer to Beijing in flying distance than London Heathrow. The Chinese are interested in making a Scottish airport their European hub connection airport. Let us hope that we can do that. I congratulate Graeme Pearson again.


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