India v China

I made a second trip to China recently in 6 months. My first one was to Shanghai in March for 3 days [see Tech Talk: An Indian in China]. This time, I was in Beijing for 4 days.

In the Shanghai trip, I walked around the city and spoke to just one person in 3 days. In the Bejing trip, I met with quite a few people, had a few business meetings and also did some sight-seeing. A few quick impressions:

– China’s strengths lie in its infrastructure (partly fueled by the rising foreign direct investment and its huge USD 200+ billion in reserves), work ethic and the size of its domestic market.

– India’s strengths lie in English and Software, compared to China. English is still not well understood or spoken in China, and there are very few signs to guide tourists in English. By contrast, English is visible all over India. Software is the other area where India has an advantage. I don’t think we’ve leveraged our advantages well in both these areas.

– China has the magnetic pull. It has remained an enigma through history and it continues to remain one even now. Perhaps that is its attraction. There is always an element of the unknown. India, by contrast, has been much more open. That is an important difference which also is reflected in the two societies.

Can India catch up? I don’t think so. China is at least a decade ahead of India. The point really is: can India leverage some of its unique advantages to change the rules of the game? Software – and software products, not juust services – are what we should be focusing on a big way to target the billions of dollars that India needs for its infrastructure development. At the lower-end, IT-enabled services can take care of the bread-and-butter business.

Above all, I think India still lacks the Will and Vision to play and win at the global stage. And when I say India, I mean Indians. A global mindset is needed – the market is not just our local city or India. This has to come across at multiple levels in India. The next decade is very important if India has to become an economic force the world respects and fears) – and technology has to play an important part in making it happen. Its a chance we may not get for a long, long time to come. Its tough – but China has shown that change can happen in a decade. That’s what India needs to learn – and do.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.