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The United Kingdom's main strengths and weaknesses
The UK's main strengths are seen to lie in our economy and institutions, our main weaknesses in our human qualities and social relations. Tradition emerges as both a major asset and as our principal liability.

What, do you think, is the UK's one major strength?

What, would you say, is the UK's one major weakness?

The unprompted responses given to these paired questions were broadly in line with replies that we collected in 13 other countries in 1999. Once again tradition emerged as both one of our chief strengths and as our main weakness. This was especially true in Japan and Korea. A similar division of opinion was apparent in the Czech Republic, Italy and Singapore. That said, in most countries more people viewed UK tradition negatively than positively.

The UK's chief strength was believed to lie in our economy or an associated area such as industry or currency. Young people in Nigeria, Kenya and Vietnam were staunchest in this view - 35-49 per cent mentioned it, versus only 3 - 9 per cent who said tradition. At the other end of the scale, UK economic strength hardly registered at all in Japan and Korea.

In general views of the UK's chief strength were polarised: countries that voted for our economy tended not to mention our traditions and vice versa.

Good government/democracy/freedom of speech occupied third place, buoyed up by strong mentions in Bangladesh, Hong Kong and Pakistan; followed by education and the English language. These are all areas that the British Council is active in promoting.

After tradition, the monarchy/Royal Family and conflict in Northern Ireland boxed and coxed for second place in the list of major weaknesses. Royal influence and scandals were particularly felt to be damaging by large numbers of people in Bangladesh and the UAE; while the Troubles loomed large in the Czech Republic and Hungary and the UAE again.

Thereafter young people singled out a range of negative personal characteristics such as racism, xenophobia, coldness and arrogance as constituting the biggest drag on the UK's reputation. Indeed, in the aggregate and taken with traditionalism and complacency, personal qualities accounted for a full 50 per cent of mentions.

The verdict of young people in these 17 countries, therefore, is that the UK has an impressive infrastructure (economy, political system and education system), but we are let down by certain negative personal characteristics.

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