China’s growing influence in Scotland
China has been increasing its economic and political presence in Scotland in recent years, through various investments, partnerships, and cultural exchanges. According to the Scottish government, China is Scotland’s fifth largest export market, worth £3.1 billion in 2019. China is also a major source of foreign direct investment, tourism, and education for Scotland, with more than 10,000 Chinese students enrolled in Scottish universities.
However, China’s growing influence in Scotland has also raised some ethical and security issues, especially in light of China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Tibet, as well as its aggressive stance on Taiwan and the South China Sea. Some critics have accused the Scottish government of being too soft on China and turning a blind eye to its abuses, while others have warned of the potential risks of Chinese infiltration and espionage in Scotland’s critical sectors, such as energy, telecommunications, and research.
Scottish government’s response to China’s actions
The Scottish government has maintained that it values its relationship with China, but also respects human rights and the rule of law. It has stated that it engages with China on a range of issues, including trade, climate change, education, and culture, but also raises concerns about human rights when appropriate. The Scottish government has also stressed that it supports the UK’s foreign policy on China, which is based on a “positive, constructive, and mature” approach.
However, some observers have questioned the effectiveness and sincerity of the Scottish government’s engagement with China, especially after it emerged that the Scottish government had withheld a report on China’s human rights situation from the public for more than two years. The report, which was commissioned by the Scottish government in 2017 and completed in 2018, was only released in March 2021, after a freedom of information request by The Ferret, an investigative journalism platform. The report highlighted the deteriorating human rights situation in China, and recommended that the Scottish government should review its engagement strategy with China, and adopt a more principled and consistent approach to human rights.
Calls for a reassessment of Scotland-China relations
In light of the recent developments in China, such as the crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong, the genocide of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, and the sanctions on UK politicians and academics, some voices in Scotland have called for a reassessment of Scotland-China relations, and urged the Scottish government to take a stronger stance on human rights and democracy. For example, the Scottish Conservatives have proposed a motion in the Scottish Parliament, calling on the Scottish government to condemn China’s human rights abuses, and to review its engagement strategy with China, in line with the recommendations of the 2018 report. The motion also calls on the Scottish government to support the UK’s Magnitsky-style sanctions on Chinese officials, and to join the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a cross-party coalition of legislators from democratic countries, who seek to counter China’s influence and challenge its behaviour.
Similarly, the Scottish Greens have also urged the Scottish government to rethink its ties with China, and to adopt a more ethical and transparent approach to trade and investment. The Scottish Greens have also criticised the Scottish government for failing to publish the 2018 report on China’s human rights situation, and for not taking any action on its recommendations. The Scottish Greens have also called on the Scottish government to end its support for fossil fuel projects in China, and to divest from companies that are complicit in China’s human rights violations.
The need for a balanced and principled approach
Scotland-China relations are complex and multifaceted, and require a balanced and principled approach that takes into account the interests and values of both sides. Scotland has a lot to gain from engaging with China, as a major economic partner, a key player in global affairs, and a rich source of culture and learning. However, Scotland also has a responsibility to uphold its own values and principles, and to stand up for human rights and democracy, both at home and abroad. Therefore, the Scottish government should reassess its relationship with China, and ensure that it is based on mutual respect, dialogue, and cooperation, but also on accountability, transparency, and human dignity.