Scottish people should have a direct air link to China and learn its languages as it now rivals the US as an economic power, according to a committee of MSPs.

But any mention of China's "widely critiqued" human rights policy during trade talks would be "extremely counterproductive", the Europe and External Relations Committee heard during its inquiry into the Scottish Government's China plan.

External Affairs Minister Humza Yousaf is heading to China for diplomatic, cultural and business engagements.

The government plan aims to increase trade opportunities for Scottish businesses and encourage more Chinese investment in Scottish industry and infrastructure.

A direct air link, more Mandarin and Cantonese language lessons and strengthening cultural ties are among the key recommendations of the committee.

Convener Christina McKelvie, an SNP MSP, said: "During our inquiry we heard that the Chinese market represents the same economic opportunities as America did 100 years ago and to neglect these would put Scotland at a serious disadvantage.

"We believe a direct air link between China and Scotland would be instrumental in increasing Scotland's business trade, as well as helping develop our profile as a tourist destination. We urge the Scottish Government to persevere in its communications on this as a matter of priority.

"There is some great work going on by the Scottish Government and its agencies to ensure Scottish companies can be introduced to the Chinese market. This is supported by ministerial visits which play such an important role in developing the relationships and open doors for businesses.

"However, we are concerned that although the plan states that its objectives are to be delivered through a combined effort by stakeholders and the Government, there seems to be a lack of engagement with some stakeholders and we have asked the Government to look at this as it is crucial to get it right."

The committee said it would welcome a more widespread teaching of Mandarin or Cantonese at all stages of education.

Scottish Development International should also investigate how to use its network of offices in China to provide greater support to companies unable to support their own office in the Asian country.

In 2011 the main export destinations, outside of the UK, were to the US and mainland Europe, but the Scottish Government also signed an agreement with the Chinese government to allow Scotland to export salmon to China that year.

The committee noted that China's human rights policies have been "widely critiqued on a global scale", yet the China plan lists respect for human rights and the rule of law as one of its four guiding principles.

It also noted the advice of Angus Tulloch, Asia Pacific partner at international asset management firm First State Investments, who said involving human rights policy in any meetings with the Chinese would be "extremely counterproductive".

The committee report states: "(Mr Yousaf) referred to Mr Tulloch's point in his oral evidence, telling the committee that the First Minister has invited Amnesty International and the Scottish Human Rights Commission to discussions on how best to progress the human rights agenda with China."

Speaking before his trip, Mr Yousaf said: "The focus of my visit is to build on the successes we have secured to date and continue promoting Scotland as an attractive proposition for investment, trade, research, tourism and cultural collaboration, in line with the priorities and guiding principles of our new China strategy.

"It is vital that the Scottish Government, our agencies and Scotland's business and education organisations do all they can to continue nurturing and strengthening Sino-Scottish relations, particularly as we pursue opportunities to generate economic growth and ultimately bring investment and jobs to Scotland."