07 Nov 2018
It’s almost always the case that a visit to China leaves your jaw bouncing off the pavement. And so it was once again when I joined the civic delegation to our twin city Dalian in the north eastern Liaoning Province.
Dalian has been Glasgow’s twin for 31 years, one of our longest twinning relationships, and Lord Provost Eva Bolander took the opportunity to lead our delegation to the 4th annual UK China Regional Leaders Summit
That summit is one legacy of the state visit President Xi JInping made to Britain in 2015. Each year since then mayors, senior civil servants, academics and business leaders have attended a summit focusing on political, business and educational relationships at the city regional level.
The Lord Provost worked especially hard during the summit to put the Glasgow case and to build relationships with the Mayor of Dalian whom we met in a formal session. New agreements were signed in the main conference programme by the city and by Glasgow School of Art to deepen relationships.
I also met with the leadership at the Dalian Chamber of Commerce and made some early progress towards the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between our two city Chambers. Both the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde have extensive activities in China and supported the visit. So too did Rangers FC whose presence was especially welcomed by the Mayor since Dalian is very keen on its football.
Whilst Dalian may not be particularly well known in the West, it has a population of just under seven million, lies an hour’s flight due east of Beijing and is an important port city, one of the top 10 busiest cargo ports in the world. Dalian is also an engineering city with a sizeable presence in shipbuilding, equipment manufacturing and car manufacturing, so you can see why there were parallels to draw with Glasgow when the original twinning arrangement was signed.
Building China’s first aircraft carrier and its first high speed train are both on the list of the city’s achievements. Financial services and tourism are also significant and the summit organisers made a special effort to demonstrate some of the assets that the city relies on to attract Chinese domestic visitors.
The city lies half-way between Beijing and Pyongyang and indeed President Xi and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met at nearby Bangchui island in May of this year prior to Kim’s summit with Donald Trump. The official photograph shows the two leaders strolling along at the waterside. If you feel so inclined you can take a similar photograph standing in their footsteps preserved in brass on the walkway.
Perhaps the jaw dropping moment however was a session at the Dalian Exhibition Centre of Urban Planning. The Centre is astonishing in itself not least in its sheer size; the model of the city takes up an entire warehouse sized space describing the evolution of and aspirations for the city region. A 38 million passenger airport is currently being built off the coast on reclaimed land in Jinzhou Bay.
Several new technology zones are in development. An entire tourism district aimed at the Chinese domestic market modelled on European historical architecture, and including a copy of the bell tower from St Mark’s Square and electric powered gondolas, is all but complete.
China may overwhelm at times but the welcome is warm and the prospects at times astonishing. We plan to make the most of the new contacts the Lord Provost has facilitated and we will keep you informed.