Why 2018 is the year to get on WeChat

Man using phone at railway line

Happy New Year!

While back in the UK over Christmas, I was a bit befuddled at the local Co-op when seeing my pound coins rejected as I paid for a Pain au Chocolat (a pastry that I highly recommend). I was told by the cashier that there were new pound coins now.

And sure enough there were: shiny round things happily joining our fancy new banknotes. Ok, that’s not entirely true. They were shiny bumpy round things. Round, but not quite. A bit like our planet.

The Bumpy Round Pound Coins, featuring 12 sides, are such a departure from the old, somewhat heavier, version that they are described as a “big leap” by the Royal Mint’s chief engraver in a lengthy page on Wired.

But as I admired the Big Leap Bumpy Round Pound Coins shining in my palm, I couldn’t help but think of China’s cashless revolution and how mobile apps were replacing their (not so shiny) money. Our leap was “big”. Their’s? (Don’t say Great Leap.)

WeChat is the darling of China’s cashless society, coming a long way since the time it was a mere casual dating app (give your phone a shake to discover a random person nearby, and erm..well, whatever happened next, happened next). It’s China’s answer to Facebook, which ironically also started life as a dating platform of sorts.

Now with more gizmos than the average 007 Aston Martin, WeChat continues to evolve. It probably won’t be long before China’s space command centre uses the app somewhere in its planned lunar landing.

WeChat’s popularity is such that The Guardian has noticed, with a piece on owner Tencent:

As the UK pivots east towards Asia, and possibly south towards Africa and maybe even Central Asia (and now I’m really making this up), WeChat is going to figure quite prominently in the coming years.

China is planning to build roads, railroads and, ah, sea roads in their trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, meaning that WeChat will have a role in all of these infrastructure projects – not just for chitchat but for sending and receiving money. That’s a big deal.

Anyone heading east to work in places like China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia will sooner or later have to install WeChat owing to the popularity of the app. Belt and Road will increase WeChat’s exposure further, so to these countries we can add Egypt, Kazakshstan, Kenya and Uzbekistan, among others.

And even if we don’t pack our bags, will will probably have to download it anyway when communicating with our farflung colleagues and business partners in Asia: WeChat is increasingly used for voice and video calls – rather like Skype.

Lest you start thinking this is a puff piece for WeChat, consider this: partly because of its versatility, WeChat is a tad complicated. It’s not as user-friendly as WhatsApp or Facebook (and I’m not getting started on WeChat for brands), and can feel quirky at times.

Which is another reason to start now – to get a feel for it before it takes off in earnest.

300 disadvantaged young people will have the chance to work in China

Great Wall of China

It might be snowing in the UK, but bilateral relations between Britain and China look warmer than ever.

A fifth high-level People-to-People Dialogue between the UK and China has led to the signing of 10 key agreements.

The “P2P Dialogue” (honestly, who comes up with these names?), an annual event with dignitaries from China and the UK, aims to promote collaboration in areas like health, education, culture, science and innovation, tourism and sport.

One such agreement, announced by UK Heritage Minister John Glen, was for a “Wall to Wall” collaboration between Hadrian’s Wall (73 miles) and the Great Wall of China (bigger than 73 miles), to strengthen international heritage partnerships and tourism. Top marks to whoever came up with the Wall to Wall idea – or should that be W2W?

But while the walls are symbols of the past (as majestic as they are), the future belongs to the young.

Education Secretary Justine Greening announced that the Generation UK-China scheme will be expanded to give twice as many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to take up internships in China from 2018.

Launched by the British Council in 2013, Generation UK – China aims to help students from the UK boost their employability, enhance their long-term job prospects, and develop a global mindset through study and work experience opportunities in China.

It’s exciting news indeed that young people from less represented backgrounds have the opportunity to travel further than they’d imagined.

What impact will Brexit have on the creative industries?

Virtual reality

The creative industries, made up of things like video-gaming (yay), architecture and advertising, is the fastest growing sector of the UK economy since the 2008 crash.

UK creativity is also hugely popular overseas. As in, very, very popular. The likes of Sherlock and Downton Abbey are loved by millions in China, and Mr Bean is Mr Bean (there’s even a Mr Bean Cafe in Bangkok that I went to; good location, and, erm, full of beans).

The British are evidently very good at this sort of thing (I can’t work it  out either; the weather might have something to do with it). So what kind of an impact will Brexit have?

The Creative Industries Federation, which as the name suggests is the UK’s national organisation for creative industries, cultural education and arts,  will explore challenges and opportunities post-Brexit through a conference next year.

The “Brexit Conference. The creative industries beyond Brexit” will be held on 15 March 2018 at the National Gallery in London, with speakers to include Chris Hirst, Jamie Coleman, Joao Vasconcelos and Shona McCarthy.

Non-member tickets will cost 400 pounds + VAT and you can register through the Creative Industries Federation website (the press gets in for free).

Or you can apply for membership and get a discount by emailing rsvp@creativeindustriesfederation.com.