Page last updated at 16:58 GMT, Sunday, 22 March 2009

China trade missions criticised

Man riding bike in city
China has one of the world's most powerful economies

The Scottish and UK governments have come under opposition fire for holding separate trade missions to China.

Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy is leading an expedition to the country, ahead of a similar trip by Scotland's first minister, Alex Salmond.

The China-Britain Business Council has expressed concern the move could send a confusing message.

But the two ministers said they were both committed to boosting links between Scotland and China.

The country, one of the most economically powerful in the world, is seen as a big export market for Scotland in areas such as whisky and energy technology.

In future, if Alex and I check our diaries better, maybe we could travel together - that would be a novelty
Jim Murphy
Secretary of state for Scotland

Commenting on the two ministerial missions, Wendy Liu of the China-Britain Business Council, told BBC Scotland's Politics Show: "If they are seeing different government officials and going to different cities, it probably will be ok, because there is no conflict.

"But if they are all seeing the same government officials, in Beijing or Shanghai, it may send a confusing message."

Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie hit out at the arrangements, adding: "It's unfortunate these two are not getting their heads knocked together and going as a team for Scotland.

"If the two of them went to together - that would be real clout for Scotland."

The Lib Dems' Nicol Stephen added: "The danger is that, because two ministers are appearing within a couple of weeks of each other, they'll send out a confused and conflicting message and that's got to be bad for business."

Mr Murphy, who is heading up what is one of the largest Scottish trade missions to China, said there were real opportunities to do business with the country.

'Politics aside'

He told BBC Scotland it was also an opportunity to see Chinese officials ahead of the meeting of the G20 group of international finance ministers in the UK.

The Scottish secretary said it was time to put politics aside and support Scotland's economy.

"Scotland has two governments - a devolved government in Edinburgh and also the UK Government at Westminster and it's important we both do all we can," he said.

"The Chinese government are pretty sensible - they know there's a UK Government and a Scottish Government and I'm sure they'll meet both of us and treat us both with the kind of respect and engagement that we deserve."

Mr Murphy joked: "I guess, in future, if Alex and I check our diaries better, maybe we could travel together - that would be a novelty."

A spokesman for Mr Salmond said the first minister would be meeting with Chinese ministers to discuss issues including education and renewable energy on his trip.

"The first minister's visit to China has been planned for many, many months and will coincide with the parliamentary recess at Easter," he added.

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