Hong Kong: UK is dull but tradeworthy

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The Independent Online
IT WAS a quintessential Tony Blair-style occasion. The modern face of Britain was on display and the Prime Minister found many willing hands outstretched waiting to be clasped.

Yesterday, on the final day of a five-day visit to China, he returned to the shopping mall he visited just over a year ago, when he attended the ceremonies marking the handover of Hong Kong. In the bowels of the mall the British Council had erected an exhibition demonstrating how modern technology was powering British design - "Cool Britannia" writ large. The only problem is the message does not appear to have got across.

According to a British Council survey, while most respondents thought that Britain had a good image, only 23 per cent thought of the old sovereign power as "creative and original". Almost half saw us as "dull", most viewed it as "deeply conservative" and "deeply class-ridden".

Still, the resolutely upbeat Mr Blair was doing his best to show that Britain was both creative and ready to do business. In Hong Kong it appears that the end of colonial rule has helped us to do just that. "We are now able to take our proper place as leaders of the business community," says Christopher Hammerbeck, of the British Chamber of Commerce.

The result is that Britain continues to be the largest foreign investor in Hong Kong, with investments topping pounds 70bn. British companies employ 250,000 people, 10 per cent of the workforce. And though trade is down because of the Asian financial crisis, the tiny former colony remains Britain's 14th biggest market.