Scotland gets pandas from China, plus more

15:39, January 14, 2011      

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By Michael McShane

The people of Britain have been given a treasure from the East this week. The People's Republic of China has awarded the lofty responsibility of looking after two pandas to the Edinburgh Zoo. The two pandas, Tian Tian and Yang Guang, barely had time to munch their first stick of bamboo before the BBC reported that China's state-owned enterprise PetroChina had signed a joint venture deal with Ineos, the owners of a major oil refinery in central Scotland.

Tian Tian and Yang Guang

This deal will safeguard the future of the 2,000-strong workforce at the refinery and goes some way to putting some economic flesh to the close cultural links Scotland has with China. The partnership of PetroCina and Ineos provides a great opportunity to see Scotland and China work together and share skills.

The arrival of two pandas at Edinburgh Zoo may well be symbolic of future international economic cooperation with China. Confucius Institutes have been established throughout Britain and Ireland. Scottish schools now include Mandarin as part of the languages curriculum, and a vibrant community of Chinese students and scholars exists in Glasgow in the form of the GCSSA (Glasgow Chinese Students and Scholars Association).

Furthermore, a very proactive Chinese Embassy in London and Consulate in Edinburgh have been working hard in recent years to promote China culturally and as a nation which can cooperate well economically in Scotland as well as throughout Great Britain.

In all of these projects, representatives of the Chinese government have shown great diplomacy and vision in their dealing with us British. Unfortunately, there have been occasions when British decency towards the Chinese has not been as gracious as our Chinese partners.

I refer to Prime Minister David Cameron's public speech less than 10 days before his Conservative Party formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. In May 2010 the General Election result saw the end of Gordon Brown's period as Prime Minister and the Labour Party has since elected a new leader in the form of Ed Miliband.

He cited China as a military threat sufficiently dangerous enough to justify a commitment of up to 130 billion British pounds to upgrade Britain's nuclear arsenal. Shaking hands with Vice Premier Li Keqiang must have been difficult for Cameron during his official four-day visit to the United Kingdom this week. Regardless of Cameron's suspicions of China in May last year, all military doubts Cameron harbored days prior to the General Election seemed a distant memory as he enthusiastically shook the hand of Vice Premier Li Keqiang at 10 Downing Street, London during the week.

Thankfully, there are many more British people who are willing to engage with China, its people, culture and an increasingly important partner for British industry.

Last year, I bought a car. It is a Rover 25. This former giant of the British motor industry is now wholly owned by Nanjing Automotive, a state-owned enterprise in Mainland China. The bridge I drive across in Glasgow that spans the River Clyde is made from Chinese Steel, either from The state-owned Angang Iron and Steel state-owned enterprise or the equally successful Shanghai Steel Company, also a largely state-owned company in China.

For many years in Britain, there has been an economic myth being pursued by successive governments, especially throughout the 1980's under Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. That myth is centered on an ideological determination to sell-off, privatize or completely eradicate any form of state ownership in favor of private ownership.

The well-documented economic failure of British banks forced the previous Labour government to inject countless billions into the Royal Bank of Scotland, Northern Rock and the Lloyds TSB Banking Group to the extent that these major global financial institutions are now effectively state owned.

China's growth since the late 1970s has often been characterized by commentators in the Western media as simply that China has sold out socialism for capitalism lock, stock and barrel. Of course, this is not the case and anyone who cares to look more closely at China and the factors behind the massive economic and social advances it has made over the last 30 years or so, will appreciate the efforts of the Chinese people to build "Socialism with Chinese Characteristics."

Perhaps, here in Scotland and Britain our governments could benefit from learning some lessons from their Chinese counterparts in the Communist Party of China. Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney told the BBC earlier this week that the agreement between PetroChina and Ineos Oil Refinery was a great boost for the Scottish economy and that Scotland has unrivaled energy resources and expertise, and the Scottish government is committed to working with China across this sector.

If British leaders are prepared to truly engage with China in this way there may be hope for a British economy still feeling the effects of the most recent recession.

I have a younger sister, who is expecting her first baby this week. My wife, from Shanxi Province is also 21 weeks pregnant at the moment. In anticipation of my first nephew, it is customary to extend best wishes to new arrivals in the family. So, well done Joanne and Paul, many congratulations. I hope your baby boy and my mixed race Celtic/Chinese baby can continue to learn about and exchange with the People's Republic of China.

Younger generations in Scotland now have the chance to grow up along with Tian Tian and Yang Guang in Edinburgh Zoo. Strong foundations for continued cooperation with China have been laid in recent years. Through mutual respect and understanding, people from our two nations can develop progressive contributions to tackle the problems in our world and with humanity.


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