THE BLOG

Why Mandarin Is The Lingua Franca For Post-Brexit Business

06/12/2016 14:05 GMT | Updated 01/12/2017 10:12 GMT
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Britain's relationship with China will become increasingly important in a post-Brexit world, according to a recent report.

Post-Brexit British business is set to become dependent on large, untapped markets like China, according to the report from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

The report, a summary of China-based International Affairs experts' responses to the 'leave' vote, makes it clear that Britain must now look east for ongoing trade partnerships.

In the report, economist Li Xiaopeng predicts that while Brexit will make the UK less important to Chinese companies, China is likely to become increasingly vital to the British economy.

This may sound like a mixed blessing, but it's good news. The report emphasises that, unlike the USA, China wants to do business with post-Brexit Britain.

While it's true that pessimists in China fear for the UK-Chinese alliance in the wake of the June referendum, optimists see the split as an opportunity to forge a "special relationship".

But the cost isn't completely clear for British business. Zhu Haibin, chief China economist at JP Morgan, expects that the newly independent UK will need to compete with the EU for Chinese investment.

Which raises the question of what it takes for a British company to gain the competitive edge in a Chinese market.

The UK government's own website offers basic advice. "Mandarin Chinese is the language of business. You should not assume Chinese firms will have English-speaking staff", it cautions.

As any business person will testify, the demands of commerce go far beyond entry-level communication. It helps to know the ins and outs of Chinese culture, and speaking Mandarin is the best way to achieve this.

Sun Qian, Director of Chinese School London, said: "Business in China is a new experience for Western people. In Britain, business is heavily regulated. In China, local knowledge and contacts are more important."

This is precisely why her teaching programme is rich in social and business-related activities, including cultural trips to China.

No surprise that even notoriously monoglot Brits are already rushing to gain skills in business Mandarin.

Although Brexit hasn't happened yet, Ms Sun has noticed an increase in the numbers of Chinese companies wanting to do business in the UK.

As the recent £1.4 billion sale of the Skyscanner website to Chinese company Ctrip.com shows, the drop in value of sterling since June has made British companies an attractive prospect for China's wealthy elite.

That's why Ms Sun is adamant that although the future of global trade may belong to China, the right time to learn Mandarin is now.

The benefits of being a Mandarin speaker aren't reserved for big business. Max Troy-O'Donovan, Co-Founder of Chinese School London, is evangelical about the way Mandarin has changed his life and the lives of his students.

"Learning Mandarin opens a lot of doors", he says, "the real China is a big, complex country, and there are opportunities for everyone. When you speak the language, it enhances whatever you're good at."

For big companies, small concerns, or even micro-ventures, Brexit is probably the ultimate incentive for Britons to learn Mandarin.

The delays caused by the Brexit negotiations offer a welcome breathing--and strategising--space for the business community as a whole.

Better to use it wisely, and prepare to meet the real China. Because it's coming - ready or not.