Business / Economy

UK lesson: Soft power can turn into hard cash

By Zhang Chunyan (China Daily) Updated: 2014-09-23 07:05

It is time for China to explore the "recipe" for British cultural soft power, which generates many economic benefits.

Cultural charm makes the United Kingdom an attractive option for foreign tourists, students and investors, and it oils the wheels of trade and business.

A recent example involved wealthy Chinese businessmen who splashed out as much as 100,000 pounds ($163,160) on a hunting trip in Scotland.

Inspired by the ITV series Downton Abbey, they rented castles complete with butlers and other servants so they could try their hand at bagging the game roaming the countryside.

Jack Ma, the head of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, was one of those men.

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Other cultural icons such as Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter have also attracted fans from all over the world to the museums and studios of the UK.

The Mastercard Global Cities Index report has forecast that 18.7 million international visitors will arrive in London this year, making it the most popular city for tourists in the world. The figure put it ahead of Paris, Singapore and Dubai, which all made the top five, as did Bangkok.

The UK has long enjoyed the cultural soft power that many countries, including China, crave.

The list goes on and on ... Shakespeare, James Bond, the Beatles, Mr Bean, the royal family, the education system, the music, the museums, arts and sports. They all have global appeal.

Besides tourism, it is obvious that the education industry has made a great contribution to the British economy.

It is more than just the famous universities. Every summer, international pupils and middle-school students fly to the UK to attend three-or four-week summer schools, learn English and experience British culture by playing sports.

A study by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills titled Estimating the Value to the UK of Education Exports estimated that the total value to the UK of education and training activity was 14 billion pounds, with a projection that this could rise as high as 26 billion pounds by 2025.

International students help sustain the UK's research base, especially in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. For example, they account for more than 40 percent of the students in UK post-graduate programs.

The money they spend also sustains thousands of jobs across the UK economy.

The influence of British culture has helped attract investment and drive economic growth as well.

Figures from UK Trade and Investment for 2013-2014 (ended March 31, 2014) show that the UK attracted 14 percent more projects than in 2012-2013.

These findings have been supported by external independent sources, such as Ernst & Young Global Ltd.

UKTI figures show that 66,390 jobs were created and 1,773 investment projects were set up by foreign businesses in the UK during the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

As China promotes its own cultural soft power, there is much it can learn from all of this. One of British culture's outstanding secrets is incorporating tradition and innovation in creative ways.

This is the kind of cultural outreach that generates economic dividends.

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