THERE’S a lot of debate right now about the inevitability of Scotland becoming an independent nation.

Historic inevitabilities, though, are the talk of those with a predilection for snake-oil, fantasy and bunkum. Events change, opinion changes. Nothing is inevitable. However, from a personal perspective I think the smart money should be on Scotland sooner rather than later stepping forward onto the world’s stage as an independent country.

Independence isn’t inevitable, but it is more likely than ever, I believe – and I’m glad of that. The transition to independence will be a tough challenge – maybe even painful – but I think Scotland can stand on her own two feet just as well as any other small country on Earth.

However, given that I believe it’s likely Scotland will eventually become independent, I must ask myself difficult questions about where an independent Scotland would stand on the world’s stage when it comes to the biggest problems facing the planet – like, how would an independent Scotland deal with Communist China?

Like it or not, we’re living in the Chinese century. Just as America dominated the 20th century, China will dominate the 21st. And China is a despotic, dangerous power.

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China presents a flotilla of dilemmas for the world at large, and the West in particular. It’s an expansionist power, for starters. Its Belt and Road policy of building infrastructure in some 70 countries gives it huge global clout. China has a dangerous foothold in the UK nuclear power sector. Similarly, Huawei presents security concerns when it comes to Britain’s telecoms infrastructure.

There’s the powerful and emotive issues of the assault on democracy in Hong Kong, and fears of a cover-up by Beijing during the initial stages of coronavirus. Most importantly, there’s the concentration camps in the west of China where an estimated one million Muslims are being kept in conditions we can only imagine. Who knows what’s going on inside this Chinese gulag?

Today, the UK Government is struggling to work out its future relationship with China. This morning Boris Johnson’s National Security Council is meeting to decide on the future of Huawei in Britain. Plans are being drawn up to cut Huawei out of fifth generation mobile networks.

There’s concerns Huawei technology could be vulnerable to infiltration by Chinese intelligence. America has imposed sanctions on Huawei and put pressure on Johnson’s government to disentangle itself from the Chinese firm.

So Britain, on the cusp of Brexit, finds itself pulled in two ways at once. A weakened UK, without many friends in Europe, now needs both Beijing and Washington. But that circle seems impossible to square.

Beijing has threatened the UK with unspecified "consequences" if London is seen to behave in a way deemed hostile. Washington, in the shape of Donald Trump, expects obedience from weaker allies.

How would Edinburgh handle a situation like this under a future independent government? One hopes we’d have made it back into the European Union and therefore have the power of numbers, and the collective will of the EU nations behind us. But that remains a moot point.

The Huawei debacle is made even more fraught thanks to China’s treatment of Hong Kong. The imposition of new security laws is clearly meant to bring Hong Kong under the heel of dictatorship. The law criminalises dissent. Hong Kong was under British rule until 1997 when it was handed back to China. The UK is now to offer citizenship to Hong Kong people as a result. Rightly so. Britain owes Hong Kong a colonial debt, and as a democracy London must stand up to acts of tyranny wherever they happen in the world.

Morally, an independent Scotland would have to do the same. With a shared history of empire with England, Edinburgh would owe Hong Kong as great a debt as London. And as a newly minted nation we’d have an ethical responsibility to defend the democratic values we promote.

But riling Beijing comes at a price. Intelligence agencies fear China is set to attack the UK with a "cyber 9-11". That’s certainly hyperbole, but rest assured the Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army don’t take slaps in the face lightly. There will be retaliation. Just ask the targets of Operation Fox Hunt – which sees Chinese ex-pats targeted abroad. Beijing says it is an anti-corruption operation, but it’s really about silencing dissidents, some of whom had families threatened. One was passed a message saying: “Return to China promptly or commit suicide.”

It also seems likely that China has played fast and loose with the truth when it comes to coronavirus. Certainly, there’s intense speculation that Beijing knew the virus was at large from November. Chinese authorities didn’t alert the World Health Organisation until late December.

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The gravest of all issues which China presents us with, however, is what’s happening to its Muslim Uighur minority. Security laws have been used to round up and detain Uighurs en masse. There’s allegations of rape, torture, forced birth control and sterilisations. A group of Uighur leaders in exile have submitted evidence to the international criminal court demanding an investigation into senior Chinese officials, including Communist leader Xi Jingping, for genocide and crimes against humanity.

As proof of China’s aggressive response to any criticism, Beijing announced retaliatory sanctions against US officials yesterday after Washington sanctioned senior Chinese officials over allegations surrounding the treatment of Uighurs.

China makes an already dangerous world more dangerous. London is struggling desperately – in its current weakened form – to work out a new strategy towards Beijing. When it comes to Edinburgh, there’s little been said or done that can be seen as even a prototype policy towards China.

To be fair, why would Scotland – on the brink of possible independence – currently seek to rile a giant like Beijing? Nevertheless, with Scotland on the road to independence a China policy will need to be forged sooner rather than later. So far, though, there’s been little more than solid international thinkers like Alyn Smith MP rightly highlighting human rights violations, and the First Minister extolling trade with Beijing.

If – when – Scotland becomes independent, our nation will need to grow up fast, and find its footing on the world’s stage quickly. Working out how to deal with a problem like China may be our baptism of fire.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.