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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 – Espree Devora, Creator, Podcast Producer, and Host at WeAreLATech.com

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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.)

Espree Devora is known as “the Girl who Gets it Done”. She created WeAreLATech.com, a hub for entrepreneurs to connect to resources in the Silicon Beach community, which hosts the 1st podcast focused on LA Startups. She is also a podcast Producer and Host of the show, Women in Tech Podcast. The purpose of the show is for every listener to walk away feeling ‘If She Can Do It So Can I’. She calls it “actionable empowerment”. In 2017, Espree was listed by Inc Magazine as top 30 Women in Tech to follow.

What makes you do what you do?
Being an entrepreneur is in my blood. Some days are epic highs. Others are incredibly uncomfortably low. It’s not an easy day to day life, but living with a sense of purpose is an extraordinary gift.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Being myself. Pushing through my fears to be positively vulnerable. To live as though I am always mentoring even though I may not know who’s paying attention.

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)?
I’ve always loved media production. It’s a creative art form that can have long lasting positive effects on the audience who absorbs the content I create.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work? How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him/her?
I do now have a mentor I look up to to be my most powerful self. We met at a conference and we speak regularly to work past my self-limiting beliefs and to build an abundant life, both spiritually and professionally. My mentor’s name is Debra Hockemeyer.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I seek out integrity and a moral compass code. I want empowering solution mind teammates who value our company culture.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
Yes, because we’re human.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Lead with vulnerability, let your audience share in the progression of your journey.

Advice for others?
Your “intuition is your oracle”. Walk your own path, don’t try to be someone else. They had their journey so it’s time for you to create your own journey now.

People crave connectivity, not celebrity. So rather than trying to look big, instead focus on creating immense positive impact in each person’s life (be it customer or partner or friend)

My Mom always says every “No” is one step closer to a “Yes”.

We want to continue to build connective technology, produce meaningful media and create unique offline experiences in the startup space to move people from online digital relationships to high quality offline relationships.


If you’d like to get in touch with Espree Devora, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/espree/

To learn more about WeAreLATech.com , please click here.

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Callum Connects

Darvin Kurniawan, Founder & CEO of REIDAO

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Darvin Kurniawan is impressed by blockchain technology. He believes it will change the way we live in the not so distant future. His business, Crowdvilla.io is using blockchain technology to change how society owns assets.

What’s your story?
I was trained in computer science and I went on to appreciate the many facets of business. I delved into multiple industries, which equipped me with the many skills to become a ‘jack of all trades.’ This allowed me to see things from various points of view and to identify opportunities and potential risks.
I heard about bitcoin for the first time in 2011. It was very difficult for me to understand back then. I revived my interest in blockchain technology near the launch of the second most popular blockchain, ethereum and I have been involved ever since.

What excites you most about your industry?
Blockchain has a real chance to change how we live as a society. This is not just as a business or start-up, but a way of life.

What’s your connection to Asia?
My grandfather came from China to Indonesia. I was born in Jakarta, Indonesia. I moved to Singapore for university and have stayed here since then.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, for its efficiency, and very clear rules and regulations. Not to mention the relatively competitive tax rate.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Just try it out.” So simple, yet many fail to appreciate the fact that surveys and questionnaires sometimes just don’t work.

Who inspires you?
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a writer. He inspires me because of his ability to see things the way they are. He articulates points that I knew existed, but I couldn’t explain. That’s what makes me drawn to his writing.
Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok), a politician. He is able to say what’s right, no matter what!

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
A blockchain AI project by SingularityNET. It’s going to change how we live if it goes mainstream.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have been more persistent in my endeavours. I learnt the hard way. In many cases, what was needed was time.

How do you unwind?
I frequently take a long stroll.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Lombok, Indonesia. It’s not as crowded as Bali, with similar, if not better beaches. It’s perfect for a quiet time and a short getaway.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Shameless plug for your business:
It’s more than just a business. It’s a movement. Crowdvilla.io is changing how society owns assets. Through blockchain technology and the ability to create digital assets, we can create digital assets that mimic and govern a real estate utilization model.
Imagine if there was a hotel chain where the buildings or assets were owned indirectly by the community, and the hotel’s mandate was to make itself available for the community to use. Removing all the middlemen, we can immediately give better value to the community.

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]

Twitter handle?
@darvink

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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