Stronger economic ties with China a priority for Channel Islands' financial sector

  • ITV News has looked at the growing economic ties between the Channel Islands and Asia by focusing on links with China and Hong Kong

Growing economic ties between the Channel Islands and Asia present major opportunities, according to business leaders.

Many of the world's largest emerging markets are in the region, as well as a sizeable percentage of the global population.

The Channel Islands are already well-positioned as a number of world-leading financial and legal firms that have offices in Guernsey and Jersey also have several across the continent.

Jersey, in particular, has had a prosperous relationship with the region for several years - a Jersey Finance report published in November 2021 found the money flowing through the island supported nearly two and half million jobs in Asia between 2017 and 2020.

In comparison, the economic activity on the island supported less than a million jobs in the UK during the same period.

More specifically, business leaders say there are growing opportunities for the Channel Islands in China and Hong Kong, which is a Chinese Special Administrative Region (SAR).

Last year, Jersey-based companies listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange were valued at more than £4.5 billion.

Such is the importance of the region, Jersey Finance now has offices in both Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Maria McDermott, who represents the organisation in China, also says recent changes to global regulations have "levelled up the playing field" for jurisdictions like Jersey.

Her job involves boosting the island's profile in the region: "We are working hard to raise the brand profile and educate people on Jersey as a jurisdiction. China is a massive market. There's so much business. There's enough for everybody."

People in Jersey joined the hundreds of millions across the globe celebrating Lunar New Year. Credit: ITV Channel

One way to further improve the Channel Islands' economic relationship with Asia, and especially China, is to get a better grasp of the language and culture, according to a legal expert.

Marcus Leese is Chair of the Guernsey Bar and has spent many years working and travelling in Hong Kong and mainland China - during this time, he has seen how helpful even a basic understanding of words or traditions can be.

He says: "The reputation of Guernsey and Jersey has developed hugely and that's in large part because of greater familiarity with the culture and language of the region. It's something our clients find very, very valuable."

Learning Mandarin is a challenge already on the radar for a number of islanders, with some attending a language school in St Helier which runs classes for students from pre-school age right up to adulthood.

With China undoubtedly set to remain an economic and cultural superpower, parents who have enrolled their children for language tuition from a young age believe it could give them an advantage in the future.

One parent, Daian Sumner, says: "It's only going to grow and that's the direction of travel, so why wouldn't you want to invest in your child so they had a piece of that future?"

Another parent, Suzanne Howe, adds: "To learn something at this young age and to see all the different cultures and why people do different things in different ways is a really good skill for them to have."

Some children are already learning Mandarin from a young age in Jersey. Credit: ITV Channel

Tensions persist between the West and China due to alleged human rights abuses being carried out in the country.

Nevertheless, trade between it and the UK remain strong, and while that continues, politicians in the Channel Islands say they welcome improved economic ties with China.

Jersey's Minister for Sustainable Economic Development, Deputy Kirsten Morel, says: "As long as the UK is happy with the UK doing business with China, then that's the stance that Jersey is likely to have, and it's the same for most jurisdictions."

However, he adds representatives from the island voice their concerns about alleged human rights abuses when they visit countries where that could be an issue.

Deputy Morel explains: "I do know that when ministers have been on missions to other jurisdictions where people believe there are human rights issues, ministers do tell me when they have come back that they have spoken to the leaders in those places about the human rights issues."