Looked at from China, the Isle of Man must appear to be a tiny sea-bound speck on the fringe of Europe, assuming they’ve even heard of it.
Now, all of a sudden, it looks as if little and large have spotted a common interest, with the IoM Government last month signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that will open a small but important corridor from the island to Chinese tech zone, the Zhongguancun Boya Multimedia Creative and Innovation Park (ZBMCIP) near Beijing.
It’s always hard to judge the significance of this these paper deals in advance of tangibles, but as previously noted in Techworld, the IoM has a policy of actively encouraging technology startups and wants new Chinese firms of any ilk to consider the island as a possible base for expansion in the west. So far only larger established Chinese firms such as Huawei have made this kind of jump to Europe, although this must change at some point.
Looked at another way, the island desperately wants to shed its former image as a tax haven and tech is its escape pod.
The Chinese for their part seem to be intrigued by the island’s status as a Crown dependency, connected to bother the UK and Ireland but independent of both. The IoM is not a member of the EU but is inside its VAT zone which allows the free movement of goods.
“The Isle of Man identified China a place it should hook up with,” agrees the Isle of Man’s director of e-business development, Jonathan Mills.
“It seems like the elephant and the mouse but the Isle of Man has offices in China and the logic is to put ourselves as a good place to base yourself for world business.”
Under the MoU, the ZBMCIP will promote the island in China as a base for companies looking to expand into Europe and assist joint ventures looking to move in the other direction.
“The major benefit today is that if you are a manufacturer in China and you want to distribute throughout Europe, because we are in a VAT zone you can direct ship.”
Offshore from a Britain preoccupied with the tedious detail of Brexit, the Isle of Man carries on as normal, essentially unaffected.
“The IoM did an assessment of Brexit a couple of months ago and it wasn’t pinning its colour to one side or the other,” says Mills.
But should Brexit come to pass as the radical separation some of its most ardent supporters hope, the UK could do worse than study the example set by the tiny island in forging links with China at a time when the deatil of the country's new trading relationships with the world remain poorly described.
The Chinese startup and SMB sector will come out of its shell one day and will need partners but it is the tiny island state not giant UK Plc that has made a start in attracting its enterprising firms.
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