Most of India has always viewed China as a competitor, and not as a market. Perhaps this adversarial relationship goes back to the war we fought and the Indian territory that China still occupies. India’s twin obsessions of politics and Pakistan have put India much behind China in the game that China has understood very well: tomorrow’s battlefield lies in economics, not politics. India had begun well in 1991, but somewhere along the line, we went slow as China powered ahead.
Yet, tomorrow will bring its own set of opportunities. That is how India needs to see China: as a new market which Indian entrepreneurs need to look at as they expand beyond India’s boundaries. If the past decade was about looking West (to US and Europe), the next decade will be about looking East (to China and the other countries in the region).
India may have missed the manufacturing bus to China, but it can build a services base. These beginnings have already been made. Today, just as China is being discussed globally for manufacturing, India is very much on the agenda for outsourcing software and services. This is one of the core strengths around which India needs to become part of the global supply chain. Just as Chinese companies seek to flood the Indian market with their low-priced products, India can make China a part of the Indian services orbit by leveraging its strengths in English, execution and relationships built with the global companies. China’s uniformity has worked well as it has become the workshop of the world; India needs to make its diversity work as it seeks to become the back-office to the world.
Indian companies need to understand China better. They need to start setting up offices there – not just for liaison or for “demonstrating a China strategy”, but for full-fledged business. It will mean learning the Chinese language and understanding the local culture. The two countries may seem similar and there is always a desire to seek comfort in what is alike between the two countries and its people. But the reality of the past 50 years cannot be overlooked – China’s communism and India’s democracy are realities which need to be remembered as one considers the markets and attitudes of the people.
A good example of an Indian company which has expanded into China is contests2win (c2w), which helps companies in their brand building efforts with consumers through contests and games. c2w started off as a child of the dotcom era in India. But it has not only built a large following in India, but also last year expanded into China. It is using the headstart China has in its Internet base (5-6 times that of India) to build an early lead into new, emerging markets and technologies. Other Indian companies who have already built a presence in China include Aptech and NIIT on the IT education front.
China is a competitor, but it is also an opportunity and a very big at that for Indian companies, if we are prepared to look at it that way. Walk through the Shanghai Museum and see how a first century AD export from India has made a deep mark across China. That export: the teachings of Buddha. Now, two thousand years later, India needs to learn and do the same. Our software, services, and even our films can be good starting points. US, Europe and Japan may offer the comfort of past successes, but there are fortunes to be yet made targeting the “bottom of the enterprise pyramid.” No pyramid base can be bigger that the combined markets of India and China.