Exports to China reached their highest ever level last year, the First Minister has said.

Alex Salmond highlighted the 30% annual increase, taking exports to almost £560 million, in a message timed to mark Chinese new year.

Over five years, exports have increased by 88%, he said.

"Eight is a lucky number in China - 88 has been doubly lucky for Scotland," he said.

"Our Global Connections Survey this week reported a 30% increase between 2011 and 2012 alone.

"It is clear that China sees Scotland, the land of invention, as an important business partner."

He focussed on the Scotland-China link three months after official visits to Beijing and Hong Kong.

Cultural links are also important, he said, referring to the two giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo and growing links between schools.

"It's a great sign for the future that young people in Scotland are learning about China, and that young people from China are learning about, and studying in, Scotland," he said.

"It means that we can look forward to many more years of co-operation between our two nations.

"And it shows that the friendship between Scotland and China will continue to flourish, during this year of the horse, and for decades to come."