Beyond Brexit: global opportunities in China and Southeast Asia

Article 50 has been triggered and the UK is now on the long road to Brexit nirvana, whatever that looks like.

The path ahead is more likely to be one of those twisty-turny, gut-wrenching mountain roads than the fast lane of a motorway, with no clear vision of where the final post-Brexit destination will be, when this fabled destination will be reached, or even if the Brexit bus will arrive in one piece. It might lose a wing mirror – or worse.

As familiar pastures recede into the distance, the Brexit bus will climb higher through the mist, and the air temperature will drop a little. There will be signs of ice. Mountain goats from the past will clatter down the rocks from their lofty perch to butt in the conversation, though unlikely to topple the Brexit bus altogether.

Bus on a mountain road

Despite the uncertainty, or perhaps because of it, old symbols from the past will be revived. There is talk of the navy British passport coming back (though a passport cover is just as effective; mine is black – which is neither blue nor burgundy, and frankly no one in the world cares what colour the British passport is). Bizarrely and worryingly, there are growing tensions over Gibraltar.

But we can’t go back to 1982. Looking past the cranks and the hotheads on both sides of the Brexitian fence, there are intriguing global opportunities to explore for UK-based Brits and EU citizens alike – and where better to begin than in today’s most exciting “emerging” markets in East Asia.

China

Relations between Britain and China have come a long way in recent years, which is just as well, as good terms will likely come in handy. There is much talk of a “golden era”, symbolised by President Xi and then British PM David Cameron enjoying a bilateral pint down the pub in late 2015 before the cameras (Green King IPA sales later went through the roof in China and the pub was bought by the Chinese).

The Chinese premier later participated in a photo op with Cameron and Man City’s star striker Sergio Aguero in what was arguably the most surreal selfie in modern times. It’s fair to say that he is still going strong, while Cameron and Aguero have been sidelined, with more than one goal missed…

China and Britain have since made a fresh commitment to promote free trade as both countries speed up efforts to start the golden era for real, according to Xinhua, and there are indications that things are taking off.

Taking off literally in the case of the new flights announced in March from London to Guangzhou and Manchester to Beijing. Meanwhile a delegation of 60 high-net-worth entrepreneurs from China will be visiting London in June to seek opportunities for investment and partnerships with British SMEs.

But let’s focus on everyday people.

Young Brits are already doing incredible things in China. Leading the way in telling their story is the British Council, who interviewed Christopher Colman, a young British animator who moved to China upon graduation, and published a piece by British fashion designer Stephanie Lawson on launching a brand in China and “surviving”.

An earlier article tells of an English language assistant in China who had come up with a sustainable bamboo clothing and accessories brand, Mabboo, in between classes and plans to take it global.

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia, the most eclectic of regions, has traditionally offered something for everyone over the decades, from bankers to beachgoers. In global terms, it’s growing in influence: Asean is now the UK’s 8th biggest export market worth $17.4 billion in 2015, more than twice the value of UK shipments to India.

With a rapidly evolving landscape, Southeast Asia looks same same, but different. Hubs like Singapore no longer have such a commanding appeal in the region, though the resilient Lion City will continue to roar as always.

Indonesia

Take Indonesia, for example, one of the “BRICS” when the term was still popular. A strategic partner of the UK, the sprawling archipelago is the world’s fourth most populous country and expected by PwC to jump from 8th to 4th biggest global economy by 2050.

With 80 million social media users, the nation is among the biggest users of Facebook and Twitter in the world. Jakarta itself is said to be the Twitter capital of the world – take that, London.

Jakarta and Bali have thriving coworking scenes, and the Hindu island in particular is a big draw for digital nomads, attracted to its spiritual vibe and charm. Hubud and Coworkation are just two among several coworking options that have surfaced in recent years.

Malaysia

Hopping now across the Straits of Malacca (mind the container ship), where Malaysia is also of special interest to the UK. In recent days both countries affirmed their commitment to enhancing ties post-Brexit.

One of Southeast Asia’s more alluring countries (I have my own special relationship with their culture), Malaysia has compelling tech opportunities in Kuala Lumpur and vibrant northern neighbour Penang. Jobbatical frequently advertises opportunities with Malaysian startups.

If you are still studying, good news – KL is the most affordable city in the world for students, according to the annual QS Best Student Cities 2017.

Another hop, though technically two – one across the mountains and another across the sea – will take you to mystical Borneo. Kuching, a tranquil city not far from Singapore, has been described as “the next Chiang Mai“, Asia’s digital nomad hotspot, and the famous laksa isn’t bad either.

Thailand

Which must make Chiang Mai the next Bangkok. Possibly. Thailand’s cultural capital is a magnet for location independent workers, and it’s not difficult to see why, with its food scene, quality of life and affordability. Nomad List ranks Chiang Mai top worldwide for remote workers.

Koh Lanta, near Krabi in Thailand’s south, takes the idyll a step further – unlike Bali and Chiang Mai, KoHub remote workers can enjoy mile after mile of golden sand.

But Thailand appeals even if you’re not a digital nomad. In recent days it was announced that the Thai government is offering British expats a 20 year residency permit. The package, which costs £481 pounds a year on top of a £48,138 one-off fee, will include a VIP fast track on matters relating to driving licence, work permit and immigration.

Two decades might be excessive for some, A 10 year permit is also available for £24,066, in addition to an annual fee, and a 5 year permit is available for £12,033.

The Thai government agency, speaking to the Press Association, explains:

I think that Brexit will give us an opportunity to even open more, or to introduce Thailand even on a broader scale … you can live in Thailand for up to 20 years if you’d like to, therefore it would be a good opportunity for both countries, in terms of UK people and the Thai people.

What have I missed?

*update* 
“We don’t need Brexit to do this. Germany exports more to China than we do. EU not holding us back.” Agree?

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