China’s love affair with Britain is engrained in our DNA. Ask any Chinese consumer and, like me, they will tell you that ‘Brand Britain’ represents a number of things: namely quality, heritage, individuality, creativity and uniqueness.
In fact, according to research recently released by Barclays Corporate Banking, Chinese consumers are nearly 40% more likely to buy a product if the packaging features a Union Jack on it.
Despite there being some 4,831 miles between the two countries, British language and culture both play an important role in our upbringing in China.
For starters, English is China’s second language. We start learning it at the age of five – and it remains a compulsory subject, irrespective of what else you are taking, for your GaoKao (National Higher Education Examination) which is equivalent to the UK’s A-levels. And so with more and more people in China speaking English, it’s been easy for the Chinese population to immerse themselves in the British lifestyle and culture.
We devour British films, dramas, novels and histories - from Harry Potter all the way through to Downton Abbey. And when China’s biggest popstar, Jay Chou, chose to marry his model/actress girlfriend, Hannah Quinlivan in Yorkshire’s Selby Abbey, followed by a reception at Castle Howard, the two places instantly became must-see tourist destinations for Chinese holidaymakers.
Even from a commercial perspective, leading UK agencies like Ogilvy Ltd have been responsible for influencing the way home-produced brands have been marketed in China, up until at least the turn of the 21st Century. This has had such a major influence on shaping Chinese consumers’ minds - to the extent that a Chinese person can very easily recognise British brands (especially luxury brands like Burberry), yet wouldn’t be able to pick out iconic American brands in the same way.
And it’s because of the English-speaking connection, that the Chinese are more likely to consider the UK to be a separate entity from the rest of Europe where, in general, a number of less familiar languages to the Chinese are spoken.
So, unsurprisingly, with the value of Pound Sterling depreciating, even more Chinese people are choosing to travel to the UK to shop – which is, of course, great news for the UK.
From a business perspective, Brexit will undoubtedly leave more of a dent. Currently, the free movement of talent in the UK is an essential part of what makes the country so great. Like Crayfish.io, approximately 50% of tech startups in the UK are founded by immigrants - and, of these, almost 50% are from the EU. So, if a No-Deal Brexit does really happen, hiring good talent will present a challenge for such tech companies. Tech founders are always going to have ideas and do it anyway - they just might not be doing it in the UK anymore.
According to the website tenentrepreneurs.org, nearly half (49%) of the UK’s fastest-growing startups have at least one foreign-born co-founder while nine of the UK’s 14 startup unicorns have at least one foreign-born co-founder.
Chinese investors, too, tend to invest in the UK first before moving deeper into Europe – but, because of Brexit, many of them are holding off for now until they see what’s going to happen.
However, because the UK, as I have mentioned, has such a good reputation in Chinese people’s minds, all the assets here are still considered to be high value – and, while Chinese overseas investment (including in property) has decreased since 2018, according to recent data, the UK is now the No1 country for attracting Chinese overseas investment.
Latest statistics compiled by law firm Baker McKenzie and research company the Rhodium Group show that, last year, the UK was the largest recipient of Chinese outbound foreign direct investment, surpassing the United States which has, historically, been the biggest recipient.
According to the joint report, Chinese outbound FDI in the UK stood at $4.94 billion last year, followed by $4.8 billion in the US and $4.05 billion in Sweden. The report defines FDI as "all organic expansion investments and those that result in ownership control of at least 10 percent in the target firm".