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Caithness News Bulletins October 2003

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Highland Council China News & Links  


A delegation of Inverness Area Highland Councillors and businessmen from the Highlands & Islands has just returned from China declaring their visit a positive step forward in forging strong economic and educational links.

Accompanying Inverness City Provost William Smith were Councillors Jimmy Gray, Norrie Donald and Bob Wynd together with Chris Claridge, the Highland Council’s Inverness Area Manager and businessmen from Inverness and the Western Isles.

The businessmen included Duncan Chisholm of Duncan Chisholm & Sons Ltd., the Kiltmakers, Inverness and Ian MacKenzie and Roddy Martin of the Harris Tweed Industry.

The group visited cities in China included Jinan the capital of Shandong Province south of Beijing and the City of Dongying, the oil capital of China, which was celebrating the 20th anniversary of its development as a city.

Provost Smith was invited to visit Dongying which has a population of 1.6 million, by the Mayor, Mr Liu Guoxin, following a visit made to Inverness in July 2002 by civic leaders and businessmen from Dongying.  The delegation from Dongying last year was impressed with developments in the Highlands and its unique culture and heritage and is keen to develop co-operation in the fields of commerce, economic development, culture and education.

The Provost and Councillors from Inverness were invited by the Mayor to be his “top table” guests at the opening of a major conference and exhibition which attracted representatives from around 25 counties that was being held in Dongying to celebrate its 20th anniversary.

During the course of the visit the Highlands & Islands delegation held high level talks with the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Dongying, the Secretary General of the Communist Party in Dongying and numerous officials and businessmen.  The delegation also met with similar representatives in Jinan.

Provost Smith presented the Mayor and citizens of Dongying with a permanent exhibition highlighting the unique landscape, culture and heritage of Inverness and the Highlands.  The exhibition, which was co-funded by Inverness & Nairn Enterprise, formed the centrepiece of displays of kilts and other Highland dress made by Duncan Chisholm & Sons Ltd and numerous lengths of Harris Tweed.  These products attracted a lot of attention particularly from businesses in and around Dongying and numerous discussions were held on the scope for trade and other business links between the Highlands & Islands and Dongying and other parts of China.

Duncan Chisholm said: “As a result of what I have seen and the numerous business meetings that were arranged, it was very evident that there is considerable potential for an enormous increase in the export of Scottish goods to China.  I received many enquiries for the supply of ladies kilt skirts and mini kilts and also for lengths of tartan material.  I feel that Scottish Highlands and Islands tourism industry could benefit enormously if a good marketing strategy for future promotion of the area was initiated as soon as possible.”

Ian MacKenzie and Roddy Martin of the Harris Tweed Industry said: “The trip was an unforgettable experience.  China is a beautiful country and the people we met were so kind and welcoming.  The pace of economic development is staggering and has to be experienced at first hand.  There is a large and growing market for western luxury brands which is very encouraging for us.

“Our main aim was to investigate the textile market situation and the prospects for our own product.  We made several good contacts with Chinese companies and will be following up over the next few weeks.  The Dongying Trade Fair was the first time Harris Tweed has been shown in China and the fabric was very well received.  We believe that China offers exciting opportunities for Highlands & Islands quality products but it will need a lot of effort.”

All three businessmen praised the foresight of Provost Smith and The Highland Council for their early involvement in developing links with China.  Duncan Chisholm particularly welcomed the support also given by Inverness & Nairn Enterprise.

Provost Smith said: “The whole delegation was very impressed with the enthusiastic and friendly welcome received throughout our visit to China.  The Chinese economy is growing by about 10% each year and national and local government at all levels is committed to developing international co-operation.  There is a lot of interest in strengthening links with the Highlands & Islands.”

Councillor Jimmy Gray, Chairman of the Inverness Area Planning, Development, Europe & Tourism Committee said: “The scale and pace of development in Dongying and the other Chinese cities we visited is breathtaking and has to be seen to be believed.  The efforts made by Mayor Liu Guoxin and his staff and the warmth of the welcome by the Chinese people made our visit an unforgettable experience.”

Councillor Norrie Donald, Chairman of TEC Services said: “China has a very advanced road programme looking 30/40 years ahead – however, because of the emphasis on new development, they do not seem to be too concerned about repairs to pavements.  We were made aware that they do have serious environmental issues which they will have to address sooner rather than later.  I was pleased to see that they do plant many trees at the same time as they build their roads in order to improve the environment.”

Councillor Bob Wynd, who as its Vice Chairman was also representing Inverness & Nairn Enterprise said: “Throughout this visit the Inverness Area of  The Highland Council, with the support of Inverness & Nairn Enterprise, has opened the door for business, culture and tourist industries, educational exchange linkage and sporting groups to enhance and develop contacts to enrich both China, Inverness, and the wider Highland Community for our mutual benefit and greater understanding of our unique and diverse cultures.”

During the visit to Dongying Chris Claridge, The Highland Council’s Inverness Area Manager initiated talks with his counterparts in the Dongying City authority regarding possible links by senior pupils at Cauldeen Primary School in Inverness and a Primary School in Dongying.

The links would involve senior pupils in both schools developing insights and understanding of their different cultures.  Through the exchange of digital images and electronic communications pupils will explore the diversity and similarities of citizenship issues in China and Scotland.  The pupils will gain a greater insight into difference in life-style, culture and environment whilst at the same time further developing their computer skills.

Representatives of the Dongying City Education Service and the Head Teacher of a Dongying Primary School, Mr Li Fuxin, who were present at the discussions were very enthusiastic about the potential links with Cauldeen Primary School whose Head Teacher, George Glass, would be supervising the Inverness end of the link.

The exhibition presented to the City of Dongying by Provost Smith will form a permanent display in a new Scotland in China Centre in Dongying being promoted by Mr Aidan Scotland, Chief Executive of China International Corporation Ltd.  Mr Scotland who is based in Nairn has been working in China for 10 years developing business links between China and the UK.

The Scotland in China Centre is part of an extensive leisure and housing development being built by the Kinghand Group, whose directors visited Inverness in 2002.  The development includes a hotel and golf course.  In order to assist the development of golf in China, where there is enormous potential for a greater number of courses and golfers an offer has been made by the Highland Golf Academy based in Dornoch to invite two young students from Dongying to participate in the training offered by the Academy.

Provost Smith said: “This was a pathfinder trip to China.  The rate of change and growth in the economy of China is breathtaking.  There is tremendous goodwill on the part of the Chinese towards Scotland and a desire to co-operate to our mutual benefit.  The unique assets and products of the Highlands & Islands are clearly attractive to the Chinese and we will be working hard to develop the links further.

“We will be speaking to the Highlands & Islands Enterprise network, UHI, the Scottish Executive and other organisations about the tremendous potential for business and other forms of co-operation and how these can be followed up.  A delegation of civic leaders and businessmen from Dongying plan to visit Inverness and the Highlands.  This visit shows the level of commitment to co-operation by our friends in China.”