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Will India Challenge China?

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So what does China have to do with India? More importantly, you may be asking, how could one hope to learn anything about China by visiting a completely different country?

Why India?

Aside from the fact that I thought India would be an interesting place to visit, I had begun to notice over the past year news stories, blog posts and twitter discussions about whether India would ever challenge China economically, militarily and/or diplomatically.

One book I read earlier in 2011 was Robert Kaplan’s Monsoon, a fascinating historical approach to explaining why the Indian Ocean will become the world’s most contested region, and how China and India are already competing for influence. (Kaplan also leads the reader to wonder a.) whether the US understands the importance of this region and b.) even if the US gets it, whether the US will have either the will or the ability to maintain its influence.)

The question of whether China’s influence in the region will increase is no longer contested, but many people – including some long-time China watchers such as me – see India as a potentially credible rival to China. India has a large land mass, the world’s second largest population and an economy that has consistently turned in upper-single digit economic growth for most of the past two decades. India and China also share a long and contested border, with both countries occupying lands claimed by the other, and as a result, the level of trust between the two has always been fairly low.

Regardless of whether India could become a credible rival, it is easy to see that many of the necessary ingredients for a rivalry are there. And given what I know about China – that it fully intends to return to its historical role as regional (if not global) hegemon – I wanted to see for myself whether India might truly be on the cusp of challenging China’s ambitions.

So why might I have expected to learn anything about China while in India? Perhaps it is because China is the first country in which I ever spent significant time abroad. Ever since the mid-’90s, every other country I have visited has further illuminated my view of China.

Since 2000, when my employer sent me to Japan for a couple of years, I have viewed China slightly differently. To give but one small example, having been a waiter in college, I had always thought that service in China was poor because no one tipped in restaurants. After my first dinner in Japan, not only was I amazed by the friendly and efficient service, but also by the fact that the Japanese don’t tip in restaurants either. There was clearly a much deeper cultural or sociological explanation for the disparity in service levels between China and Japan.

Will India challenge China?

So, back to the first burning question that drove me to India, the question of whether India will be a credible rival to China. The short answer to this question, I am disappointed to admit, is no – certainly not in the near future, and not without China self-destructing from the inside.

As thrilled as we were to have arrived at the clean new terminal of Delhi Airport, my wife and I were simply dumbstruck by the the poverty, filth and chaos we witnessed during the hour-long ride to our hotel. Delhi makes Beijing look clean and orderly by comparison(a fact that cannot have been lost on any Chinese leaders who have visited India). And while I reserved judgment on that first day, the remainder of the two weeks we spent in India further confirmed that India is not quite ready for prime time.

This is not to say that India has no hope at all, but a lot of what I saw on the ground, combined with what one may easily learn about politics in India by reading the news, leaves me to believe that India has much further to go if it ever hopes to catch up with China. I simply never imagined India’s overall development gap with China would be so wide.

I also came away from India with a new level of appreciation and respect for the accomplishments of China. While I don’t believe China’s accomplishments excuse the lack of personal freedoms and rampant abuses of human rights, one cannot help but admire the speed with which China has pulled itself out of a deep hole of poverty.

Traveling in India and China

Traveling in China, while having improved quite a bit over the past two decades is still a bit of a grind, and in some areas it has become worse. When there were fewer people traveling by air back in the ’90s, there were also far fewer unexplained flight delays than there are now.

That said, we found traveling in India to be even more difficult. Travel agencies and airline ticket offices tend to close on Sundays so if an emergency arises (say, for example, one gets food poisoning – don’t ask me how I know about this) and you need to change your travel plans, just be sure it doesn’t happen on a Sunday. (Apparently the planes do still fly on Sunday.)

Also, trains in India are apparently affected by fog. The day we left Delhi for Agra, our train was two hours late, which actually wasn’t bad considering many trains were as much as six or seven hours late that day.

This connection between train travel and weather would not have occurred to me, but apparently train engineers in India need to have a certain distance of visibility before a train can travel. Having traveled on trains in China in all kinds of weather, I don’t think this is the case there, though I could be wrong. I mean, if all trains follow their appointed schedules, and all trains are connected via radio to each other and to a central dispatch, avoiding collisions shouldn’t be rocket science.

Of course, one can easily avoid the hassles of air and train travel by hiring a car and driver, but it can be quite expensive, particularly if it is arranged by your hotel, which (as we later realized) has no problem doubling the price of the car for their own profit.

Corruption

And in terms of scams and general corruption, I used to think the Chinese were masters at cheating foreigners, but they have nothing on the Indians I encountered on the tourist track. By comparison, the Chinese are rank amateurs. At every turn – particularly in north India, but less so in the south – we encountered people who, on the pretense of being friendly and inquisitive, wanted nothing more than to separate us from our money while providing nothing of value in return.

In all fairness, I must emphasize that these people were gathered in massive numbers around the areas frequented by tourists. Because we did not really experience the everyday lives of average Indian citizens, I cannot comment on whether such corruption affects their lives to a similar degree. However, if the many Bollywood movies I have watched are any indication, perhaps the corruption for the average Indian is just as bad though taking on different forms.

But you should go to India anyway…

While my post thus far has focused on some of our negative experiences in India, the truth is that my wife and I loved India. The amazing sights we saw, the outstanding food we ate, and the smart and honest people whom we encountered along the way combined to make the whole experience worthwhile.

If you have ever considered traveling to India just to see the sights, we can attest that it is absolutely worth the effort. (And this comes from a couple who have seen many of the amazing sights that China, Vietnam, Japan and California have to offer.) Though we were disappointed to find our view of the Taj Mahal completely obscured by pea-soup fog, this in no way diminished our experiences in seeing theQutb MinarHumayun’s Tomb, the Red FortAgra Fort and the Amber Fort near Jaipur, among others.

We also experienced fantastic service aboard a kettuvallam boat on the backwaters of Kerala while dining on outstanding Kerala cuisine and learning about the lives of the people who farm and fish in the area. And probably our best experience was at a farm homestay near Kochi where we enjoyed the warm hospitality of a world-wise Syrian Christian family and engaging conversation around the family dinner table.
All of this should come as no surprise to anyone who has traveled to more than a handful of foreign countries. The world is a big place, and every country has both its pluses and minuses. While I still have yet to visit most of the world’s countries, in every country I have visited, I have discovered uniquenesses that make my travels worthwhile. And though India did not live up to my (unreasonable) expectations, I have no regrets for having visited, and I will most certainly return. (While I was able to touch the Taj Mahal, I still have yet to see it!)

Evolving views on India vs China

This has been a difficult blog post for me to write, if for no other reason than that I really, really wanted India to be the credible rival that China needs to have in Asia. Also, since returning from India, my wife and I both have found that our views are evolving as we continue to ruminate over our experiences there and compare them to our experiences elsewhere.

And I must also emphasize that this does not arise from a desire to “keep China down” as China’s media often likes to claim whenever foreigners disagree with China’s government. As I stated before, I have an even greater appreciation for China’s accomplishments to date. Yet at the same time, it is somewhat unnerving to the free world that a big, powerful country such as China may have figured out a way to build prosperity without personal freedoms (note the emphasis on “may”). It makes many people uncomfortable that this kind of government aspires to regional hegemony and world leadership.

I would argue that no one really has a desire to “keep China down,” but that many do have a desire to keep authoritarianism down. If China were to demonstrate its concern for human rights, few would have a problem with its asserting influence around the world. (Though one might argue the same for the United States.)

And this is precisely why my hopes for India were so high. I very much wanted to see for myself that a democratically-led government could provide for its citizens both freedom and economic prosperity, and act as a counterweight to the other big country in the region that only wants to provide the latter. But what I saw is that, similar to America, India’s prosperity is limited to a small sliver at the very top of society. The middle class experience stagnation while the poor are just trying to keep their heads above water.

It would be easy to blame democracy for the disparity between China and India, but I believe that is too simplistic of an answer. (Naturally, this is the lesson that China’s leaders will choose to take from their own comparisons with India.) There are many other differences between China and India that cannot be ruled out as factors affecting the countries’ trajectories of development.

The most obvious difference is demographic. Whereas China is quite homogeneous, India is a patchwork of ethnicities, religions and languages. Without going into too much detail, I can only say that it is a surprise to me that India has remained a cohesive unit since 1947. The fact that it didn’t break into dozens of rival states is a testament of the determination of independent India’s first leader Jawaharlal Nehru. Love him or hate him, one cannot deny that he laid the foundation for modern India – both good and bad.

Since this blog post is already far longer than most people will bother to read, I will end it here and simply note that my thinking on this topic is far from complete. Scholars far more brilliant than I have tackled this topic of comparative modernization, and have yet to produce anything more than hypotheses (some more plausible than others).

The one thing I know, however, is that I will most certainly spend time in both India and China again in the future. I see great value in understanding both countries and how their political systems affect the lives of real people.

G.E. Anderson, PhD
Author, Consultant, East-Asia specialist and former international finance executive. My research focuses on business-government relations in Asia, state-owned enterprises, corporate governance and China’s auto industry.

Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Daphne Ng, CEO of JEDTrade

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Daphne Ng is the CEO of JEDTrade, a blockchain technology company focused on trade, supply chain, and financial inclusion projects in ASEAN. She is also the Scretary-General at ACCESS and Exco. of Singapore Fintech Association

What makes you do what you do?
I was introduced to blockchain technology in 2016 after I left my corporate banking career after 10 years. It was my mentor who first got me interested in this technology, which I then went on to delve further into, on its potential applications in the lending and trade finance space – domains where I came from.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Being in the space for 2 years and actively involved in the ecosystem, I was able to bring on the projects, network and a good degree of thought leadership in this vertical. Early on in the startup journey, our team faced many challenges. And to me, the key to rising above failures are two essential factors – resilience and support. While resilience is innate, I received a lot of help be it in terms of connections or advice. ‘Nobody succeeds without help’ rings very true for me.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
From the start, I focused on my domain expertise in trade finance and the application construct of how blockchain and DLT can be applied to these use cases. Also, my strategy from the start was to build a technology company made up of 80% tech and engineers, which is also our key competitive advantage today. At the end of the day, deliverables are about strategy and execution, which includes building and leading an ‘A’ team.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I have many mentors, which includes our company advisors (all of whom are well-known in this industry) and mostly informal mentors I meet via my connections, and on various occasions and circumstances. Creating opportunities also means putting myself in the right place, at the right time. And in my case, these were mostly organic and genuine friendships formed from the initial connection.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
To me, a match in values is very important. It also takes humility to ask for help and be willing to listen to advice, which is important in order for mentorships to be successful – be it formal or informal.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I love this question! I am passionate about building strong teams and helping my people grow. I abide by the 3Rs when identifying talents: resourcefulness, resilience and right values. And then I invest in the ‘potential’ and this means giving them room to lead, make decisions and take risks.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
My support of diverse talents, skillsets and characters can be seen in the make-up of our core team – all helming specific roles and each bringing their own value to the table. We need the sum of all parts to build a great company.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Great leaders emerge in times of failures and challenges, never abandoning the team, and always putting the team’s interests before her own. And I consciously live by these mottos every day.

Advice for others?
My advice to other entrepreneurs: be resolute and dare to be different. If you are going to follow others, then you will end up on the same path as them. No right or wrong; but I would rather chart my own path. This June, we are officially launching our blockchain project, Jupiter Chain (www.jupiterchain.tech), which have garnered much interest in the industry, even before we made it public. We believe this project is the epitome of marrying innovation with practical implementation, and we want to be the first to truly operationalize blockchain for our ecosystem projects in this region.


If you’d like to get in touch with Daphne Ng, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daphne-ng-%E9%BB%84%E7%91%9E%E7%8E%B2/

To learn more about JEDTrade, please click here.

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Callum Connects

Jace Koh, Founder of U Ventures

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Jace Koh believes cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. Understanding it will enhance your ability to run and manage your business.

What’s your story?
My name is Jace Koh and I am the Founder of U Ventures. I’ve always been inclined towards investment and entrepreneurship. I’ve played a hand in starting businesses across these industries – professional services, cloud integration, software and music. I believe that succeeding in business is tough, but that’s what makes the rewards even sweeter.

What excites you most about your industry?
Everything excites me. These are my beliefs:

  • Why is accounting important?
    The accounting department is the heart. Cash flow is like blood stream, it pumps blood to various parts of the body like cash flow is pumped to various departments and/or functions in a business. It is vital to the life and death of the business.
  • Is accounting boring?
    Accountants are artists too. They paint the numbers the way they want them to be.
  • What makes a good accountant?
    A good accountant can tell you a story about the business by looking at the numbers.
  • Why is budgeting and projection important?
    Accountants are like fortune tellers, they can predict the numbers and if you wish to understand your business and make informed decisions, feel free to speak to our friendly consultants to secure a meeting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore, and here’s where I want to be.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is my favourite city. We have great legal systems in place, good security and people with integrity. Most importantly, we have a government that fosters a good environment for doing business. I recently went for a cultural exchange programme in Hong Kong to learn more about their startups. I found out that the Hong Kong government generally only supports local business owners in terms of grants. They’ve recently been more lenient and changed the eligibility to include all businesses that have at least 50% local shareholding. But comparing that to Singapore, the government only requires a 30% local shareholding to obtain government support. In the early days of starting a business, all the support you can get is precious. It’s great that we have a government that understands that.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best time ever to plant a tree was 10 years ago as the tree would have grown so big to provide you with shelter and all. When is the next best time to plant a tree? It is today. Because in 10 years time, the tree would have grown big enough to provide you shelter and all.

Who inspires you?
Jack Ma. His journey to success is one of the most inspiring as it proves that with determination and great foresight, even the poorest can turn their lives around. I personally relate to his story a lot, and this is my favourite quote from him, “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve faced multiple rejections throughout my business journey, and recently came across a fact on Jack Ma about how he was once rejected for 32 different jobs. It resonated very deeply and taught me the importance of tenacity, especially during tough times.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I live a life with no regrets. Everything I do, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, happy or sad, and regardless of outcome, it’s a lesson with something to take away.

How do you unwind?
I love to pamper myself through retail therapy and going for spas. I also make a conscious effort to take time off work to have a break outside to unwind as well as to uncloud my mind. This moment of reflection from time to time helps me see more clearly on how I can improve myself.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan! Good food with no language barriers and the people are great!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I don’t really read books. Mostly, I learn from my daily life and interactions with hundreds of other business owners. To me, people tell the most interesting stories.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re not just corporate secretaries, we’re “business doctors.”
U Ventures is a Xero certified advisory firm that goes beyond traditional accounting services to provide solutions for your business. You can reach us on our website: http://uventures.com.sg/

How can people connect with you?
Converse to connect. You can reach me via email at [email protected] or alternatively, on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacekoh/

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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