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?

Baffled about Brexit? New consulting firm aims to shed light

Houses of Parliament, Westminster

Brexit. Bloody hell, as Sir Alex Ferguson might say.

It’s all happening, whatever “all” actually is. As I suggested previously, it may be better to assume control of your destiny now if you are likely to be affected by Brexit, rather than “wait and see”. But for those of you who want to know what your options are, and even influence talks, help might be at hand through lobbying.

A consulting outfit named Article 50 Associates has been launched in the UK by political advisers Jon Hudson and Darren Murphy (disclosure:  I used to work under him) to decipher Brexit for employers and employees alike – which is handy, as most of us haven’t the foggiest what Brexit will mean, hard, soft, or the gelatinous bit in between.

Article 50 Associates aims to explain how and why Brexit decisions are being made and communicate with decision-makers in the UK and Europe. Useful if you are involved with expat relocation and mobility, and it might produce a better outcome than taking to the streets.

If you’re resident in the UK and concerned about what’s happening, your best bet might be to speak to your employer, else launch a movement, raise funds and talk to the public affairs pros.

Be bold in post-Brexit 2017

Shanghai skyline by night

It’s fair to say that 2016 was a year of upsets. One after another, punches rained down on the status quo, beginning with a flurry of celebrity passings. Authoritarian Duterte was elected leader of the Philippines, Trump landed the presidency and Leicester won the Premier League. It doesn’t get much odder than that.  Oh, and the UK voted to leave the European Union.

While we still don’t live in post-Brexit times, because Brexit technically hasn’t happened yet, there has been an awful lot of conjecture, hand-wringing and strained voices. Many people are unhappy, which is understandable. But we can’t go back, only forward. To undo a democratic vote would set a dangerous precedent. Besides, we’re better than that: pragmatism and resilience amidst adversity are two British strengths (I’d take those over cheery optimism any day).

Turning crisis into opportunity

I’m not a cheerleader for Brexit (I voted Remain), but we have to survey the changing landscape and recognise that there are golden opportunities. The rest of the world, beyond the EU, helpfully sees Britain in a positive light: a survey from the British Council and Ipsos MORI revealed that worldwide Brexit has had a more positive impact on the attractiveness of the UK. The survey, As Others See Us , polled 40,000 Milliennials in G20 nations:

Rapidly growing economies in Asia, from China to ASEAN, signal new possibilities in this increasingly topsy-turvy world of ours that we should pounce on.

Adman Sir Martin Sorrell recently called on young people to obtain work experience in China – an idea that Chelsea’s Oscar has apparently fully embraced with his mega-move to Shanghai:

And to use a football metaphor, the goals keep coming as China and Britain are now gelling nicely, from arts and culture to trade and education:

Another so-called BRICS nation (is the term still used?), Indonesia, is already popular with digital nomads who flock to the gentle rice fields of Ubud. But there is so much more to this sprawling archipelago than Bali:

That’s not to say the UK should turn its back on Europe. Far from it. But there is simply little point in looking to the government for direction, or huffing over a democratic outcome. The world keeps moving.

If anyone in the UK is curious about opportunities and needs pointing in the right direction, from Brazil to Vietnam, I’d be more than happy to help.