First Minister Alex Salmond has welcomed the news that the UK’s first breeding pair of pandas will arrive on Sunday (December 4) at Edinburgh Airport to take up residence in their new home at Edinburgh Zoo.
Preparations for the pair, who are a gift on loan from China, have included creating a new enclosure, special training for the zookeepers and stockpiling bamboo – the bears’ favourite food.
Giving pandas is a key part of Chinese tradition and history. Previous recipients include the USA, after a visit by President Nixon to China, and London Zoo after a request from British Prime Minister Edward Heath.
The arrival of bears – female Tian Tian and male Yang Guang (or Sweetie and Sunlight) – in Scotland represents an important development in international relations.
It is a high-profile deal which puts Scotland in the spotlight on a world stage, and shows co-operation with China on a range of environmental, cultural and commerce issues.
Thousands of visitors are expected to flock to Edinburgh to see the pandas in their Scottish home which is a £250,000 enclosure complete with swimming pool, kitchen and nursery – in the hope that the endangered species will breed.
To celebrate their arrival, the Scottish Government has commissioned a Chinese tartan and the pandas have been given their own design. The Gillespie tartan is named after Edinburgh lawyer Thomas Gillespie who founded the Royal Zoological Society of Edinburgh in 1909. Predominant colours are black and white, representing the pandas, with red for China and green to reflect bamboo.
While the pandas are attracting visitors, the deal to bring them to Scotland also represents the potential for new cultural, trade and education opportunities in China, the world’s fastest growing economy, including:
z Greater understanding of Chinese language and culture in Scotland
z More students from Scotland going to China and vice versa
z Attracting skilled Chinese to experience living and working in Scotland
z Attracting more Chinese tourists to Scotland
z Increasing trade between Scotland and China
z Expanding connections between businesses in Scotland and China
z Raising the profile and understanding of Scotland in China
As one of the world’s top exporters, China attracts record amounts of foreign investment and, in turn, is investing billions of dollars abroad. Already some 40 Scottish companies have a presence in mainland China and Scotland is strong in many of China’s key strategic growth sectors, including renewable energy, life sciences and financial services.
The Chinese government is continuing to encourage its companies to increase investment in research and development, opening up further collaborations with Scottish companies and universities.
Cultural links with China are also strong and this year the Edinburgh International Festival had a specific Asian theme to celebrate the country’s unique culture with one of the highlights being a visit from the National Ballet of China.
Higher education in Scotland remains a popular choice for Chinese students with scores making the move abroad each year. Chinese schools and higher education institutes have a worldwide reputation and improved links give Scottish students the chance to study abroad.
Edinburgh University has set up a Confucius Institute – the first and only one in Scotland – to promote the teaching of Chinese language and culture. Higher Mandarin/Cantonese was introduced last year and already more centres are offering the subject.
It is hoped that Scottish children will be able to learn the language at primary school level in future.
As Scotland makes a home for the pandas, various elements of Scots culture are being enjoyed in China. With a taste for whisky, the Chinese are now among the biggest importers of our national drink and golf is one of the country’s fastest growing sports.