The SNP has been accused of "cosying" up to China after evading questions on whether Scottish ministers will ever meet the Dalai Lama.

It is three years since former First Minister Alex Salmond allegedly "snubbed" Tibet's exiled leader when he visited Scotland.

Now, challenged by Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone, Scottish foreign affairs minister Fiona Hyslop has declined to say whether Nicola Sturgeon's administration would do the same again.

Ms Sturgeon is just back from a trade mission to China and the Scottish Government sees good relationships with the world's largest country as one of its key foreign policy objectives.

Mr Johnstone, in a written question, asked Ms Hyslop if Scottish ministers would meet the Dalai Lama if he visited Scotland again.

Ms Hislop did not answer the question, which was hypothetical.

She told Mr Johnstone: "Scottish Government Ministers consider invitations for meetings as and when they are received."

Tibet campaigners have been disappointed by the Scottish Government's policy on China and have been deeply critical of Confucius Institutes, Chinese language and cultural learning hubs which have proved hugely controversial overseas but not in Scotland.

Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren of Free Tibet said: “It’s easy to understand why Scotland wants to develop good trade relations with countries that have economic clout.

"What is less clear is how the SNP leadership can feel comfortable cosying up to a partner like China – where the government is intrinsically opposed to the very idea of independence and would very likely have them all arrested for “splittism” if they were Chinese citizens.

"Moreover, China’s record on human rights makes a mockery of the Scottish government’s commitment to social justice.

"If the Scottish government is willing to snub a Nobel Peace Prize laureate – a man globally renowned for his commitment to peace and compassion – just to keep the Chinese government happy, then we have to ask what other concessions they might be willing to make, or perhaps have made already.”

Scottish Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone said: “This written question afforded the Scottish Government an opportunity to address their previous failure to meet the Dalai Lama.

"Instead, they have chosen to be evasive and the fact they’ve issued a non-answer is deeply concerning.

“Given Alex Salmond’s snub of the Nobel peace prize winner in 2012, this is indeed disappointing.

"With our reputation as a friendly nation we should we welcoming the Tibetan spiritual leader with open arms.

“Instead, with their bland response, we see a Nationalist Government who are content on toeing the Chinese Government’s line and totalitarian rules.

“It is utterly ironic that the SNP seek to portray Scotland as a fairer and more just nation, while at the same time falling over themselves to please a country with an atrocious human and animal rights record, in order to secure a few crumbs from their table. Is this how we want Scotland to be portrayed abroad?

“The SNP Government should stand up now and say the First Minister or another Scottish Government Minister would be prepared to meet the Dalai Lama in an official capacity, if the opportunity arises.

“This is not just another storm in a teacup but another embarrassment that I’m sure the SNP Government can well do without this summer.”