IF you’re looking for a day out then a trip to Edinburgh Zoo to see the latest VIPs there is certain to appeal to all members of the family.
After years of political and diplomatic talks, two giant pandas - Tian Tian and Yang Guang (right) - are due to arrive in Scotland on Sunday with a celebratory welcome marking the historic deal.
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.
The gifting of pandas is a key part of Chinese tradition and history. Previous recipients include the USA, following 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 Sunshine) - 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 Zoo to see the pandas in their new home which is a £250,000 enclosure complete with swimming pool, kitchen and nursery - in the hope that the endangered species breed.
To celebrate their arrival, a special Panda tartan has been commssioned. 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, such as greater understanding of Chinese language and culture in Scotland; more students from Scotland going to China and vice versa; attracting skilled Chinese to experience living and working in Scotland; attracting more Chinese tourists to Scotland; increasing trade between Scotland and China; expanding connections between businesses in Scotland and China; 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 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 world-renowned reputation and improved links gives Scottish students the chance to study abroad.
Meanwhile, 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 has already seen more centres offering the subject. It is hoped that Scottish children will have the opportunity to learn the language at primary school level in future.