South Ayrshire Council has formed a ‘friendly’ relationship with a Chinese city despite councillor concerns about LGBT rights in the country.
Politicians clashed over whether the agreement should happen, but it was narrowly approved after a tie vote at a recent council meeting.
Twelve councillors voted against the arrangement with Liaocheng City in the Shandong Province while the same number supported it.
Provost Helen Moonie, Scottish Labour, who has been on a partially-funded council trip to the region, had the deciding vote – ensuring it was carried.
Conservatives were against it and three SNP councillors including Laura Brennan-Whitefield, Craig Mackay and William Grant abstained.
Conservative leader, councillor Martin Dowey, said: “This is effectively twinning by a different name. We are twinning South Ayrshire with a city and province, with a poor record of human rights.”
He voiced concern about LGBT rights in the country among other worries.
South Ayrshire Council proudly displays the rainbow flag at county buildings but same-sex marriage is not recognised in China.
The country has been accused of committing crimes against the Uyghur population and detaining them against their will.
China has also been clamping down on demonstrations in Hong Kong with more than 100 people arrested since a new controversial law was enacted.
Ayr West councillor Dowey said his party did not object to doing business with the area but is not happy how residents are treated in China.
The provost was to sign the “Friendly and Co-operation Relationship” agreement alongside Mayor Li Changping on a video link. It is to last for five years.
Plans include leaders and departments in the two areas having consultations on matters of interest.
There is to be cooperation in the fields of economy, trade, culture, education, sports, health, science and technology.
There is also to be joint promotion of common prosperity and development between both areas.
Provost Moonie flew out to Liaocheng in November 2019.
A council report said: “Opportunities for investment, education and cultural exchanges and trading opportunities continue to be taken forward.”
A delegation from Liaocheng visited South Ayrshire in 2018 to discuss business opportunities and other links.
By local democracy reporter Sarah Hilley