The strength of Britain’s technological and creative industries, combined with the longstanding value of its archetypal brands, has given rise to a growing desire among Chinese companies to invest in the UK.
This follows on from the strong trade ties between the two nations. The UK exported £22bn worth of goods and services to China in 2017, and imported £45bn in turn. Building on this trading relationship is a key objective for the UK economy, especially in a post-Brexit world.
One way to further these relationships is through the use of high art and pop culture, which can underpin wider economic and diplomatic initiatives, and offers both countries the biggest opportunity for cooperation.
This also builds on China’s moves towards developing a more creative, consumer-driven economy.
Chinese creative industries are currently growing annually at close to 20 per cent. Wider growth in these industries is anticipated across the country – its consumer base is also likely to expand greatly, and with it, one hopes, the need to support multimedia co-productions with countries such as the UK.
With its expanding middle class, there is every sign that audiences will grow and develop in China. Already we have witnessed a growing appetite for British television programmes such as Sherlock and Downton Abbey.
Meanwhile, China’s own cultural strengths are increasingly being showcased, such as at the recent China Changing Festival at the South Bank Centre and London’s Chinese Lantern Festival, which annually transforms the prestigious Chiswick House and Gardens into a dazzling extravaganza of lights, culture and art.
These are exciting developments, particularly given that the number of Chinese students taking creative arts and design courses in the UK almost tripled from around 1,500 in 2008-9 to around 4,300 in 2013-14.
It is worth thinking about these growing cultural ties within the context of Chinese foreign direct investment into the UK, which has more than doubled in one year, from $9.2bn in 2016 to $20.8bn in 2017, according to Baker McKenzie and research consultancy Rhodium Group.
Having both been students at London Business School, we understand the value of the core business education that we received, but just as importantly we appreciate and have benefited from the international cultural life experienced in London.
Enjoying shared activities, such as musical events, theatre, and popular music, is one thing. But forging strong cultural links also produces higher levels of trust in countries and their populations. This in turn leads to greater enthusiasm to do business.
Chinese companies are today renowned for their quality products, state-of-the-art manufacturing, and world-leading technology. Significant new ventures such as China’s Belt and Road initiative, which has the potential to connect more than 60 countries and a population of four billion, presents a compelling picture of what the twenty-first century world might become.
The uniting ambition of the Belt and Road, combined with the increasing leadership China enjoys in technical industries, paints a commanding vision of the future relationship between Britain and China.
This emerging vision begins with a “start-from” as opposed to a startup relationship. Technology conglomerates from China, such as Tencent’s WeChat Pay, have been expanding overseas for some time now, particularly in the UK.
Tremendous opportunities present themselves for Tencent to work with UK traders and suppliers in order to build the technical infrastructure required to manage payments and transactions for this country’s many visiting tourists and students.
Culture will also play a big part. British institutions in the cultural and creative industries will be working closely with Chinese partners to produce exciting new products and platforms, such as the adoption of emerging next-generation human-computer interface technology.
Other Chinese technology leaders, startups, private equity and venture capital funds are also very serious about the UK market, and many are keen to attract graduates from leading universities.
The UK is world-renowned as a location for research and development, as well as scientific discovery, and ahead of China in many pioneering areas of fundamental study. It is certain that British technology startups and university research projects will continue to find many opportunities to work with Chinese counterparts.
Academic researchers and companies from both countries will continue to find many interesting opportunities in each other’s cutting- edge technologies, such as artificial intelligence and biotech (and also in the fascinating intersection between the two fields). Fintech, insurtech, media and entertainment are other examples of interesting areas for innovation collaboration.
The UK’s established excellence in technology and the creative industries, combined with China’s growing leadership in entrepreneurship and innovation, sets the scene for a golden era in business relations between both countries.