Why 2018 is the year to get on WeChat

Pound coin

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

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.

Master of Belt Administration? Chinese biz school offers China Ready mini MBA

Beijing at night (Chaoyang)

With consternation growing over things like Brexit and the economy, people are looking at the far reaches of the globe for opportunities, such as China.

China has been grabbing the world’s attention these past few months through its sprawling Belt and Road Initiative, record-busting Singles Day, tech giants that are now bigger than Facebook and takeover of famous football clubs, such as continental giants AC Milan Reading FC.

But while tempting to go in all guns blazing, it’s no walk in the gōngyuán – take it from me. Western methods are to be left behind in the airport lounge (and while you’re at it, you can leave behind weird old-school things like paper money too).

Go in with an air of hubris and you will probably fail miserably (you can console yourself with KTV and one of those baijiu bottles from FamilyMart).

Alternatively you can make an effort to understand the culture, language and body language – because, quite honestly, there are languages other than English in the world…right?

The people I know who are successful in their China dealings – and I mean genuinely successful rather than blah-blah-on-LinkedIn-successful – speak the language well and fit in like a Chinese glove puppet.

But for those of you in a hurry – and why not, we do live in a wickedly fast world these days – there is a new China Mini EMBA+ programme launching in March 2018.

Offered by the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB), the six-month programme will provide an insight into conducting business in China, from how to negotiate to how to build a business presence.

The programme will commence over two days in London (Module 1) with the theme of understanding China’s next move (i.e. China on the world stage).

Then the fun begins, I suppose, with five days in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen in April 2018 to master business fundamentals (Module 2).

The programme concludes over two days in Paris in June 2018 with a focus on China careers (Module 3).

And after that, who knows?

Alumni according to the website include people like Jack Ma of Alibaba, and he has done alright (though he was probably doing ok enough anyway).