A purely statistical analysis can be misleading. The current euphoria over the expanding Sino-Indian economic relations, the galloping bilateral trade and the mushrooming analytical studies triggered off by this euphoria are coming in the way of an adequate focus on certain emerging characteristics of these relations, which have already started redounding more to the benefit of China than of India. These characteristics could have positive as well as negative impact on the over-all Sino-Indian relations.
2. The first emerging characteristic is that China is increasingly the beneficiary of the expanding Sino-Indian economic relations during the last five years just as it has been the major beneficiary of the expanding Sino-US economic relations during the last two decades.Initially, as India and China embarked on their policy of expanding bilateral trade, India benefited more than China because of growing Chinese demands for iron ore for its steel industry. Consequently, in the first four or five years after this expansion started, the balance of trade was in favour of India. This balance in favour of India quietened fears of a possible dumping of moderately-priced Chinese goods into the Indian market.
3. Now, there is a greater flow of goods and services from China to India than the other way round. The result: the balance of trade is increasingly in favour of China. The large manufacturing base in China enables it to offer a large basket of manufactured goods to the Indian market. The inadequate development of the Indian manufacturing sector is coming in the way of expanding the basket of Indian exports to China, which continue to depend on raw materials—with iron ore constituting nearly 60 per cent of our exports.
4. The galloping bilateral trade—already touching US $ 40 billion and racing towards the newly-set target of US $ 60 billion— has already made China the second largest trading partner of India after the US. More importantly, in the coming five years, it is likely to make the Indian market the second largest market for Chinese consumer goods after the US market. The continued prosperity of the Chinese manufacturing industries would depend on the continued availability of this market.
5. This would have positive as well as negative impact just as it has happened in the case of Sino-US economic relations. The dependence of the Chinese manufacturing industries on the US market has introduced a certain moderation in Chinese policies towards the US in strategic areas due to the Chinese anxiety to avoid unnecessary tensions in its relations with the US in matters such as Taiwan lest these tensions affect the trade, which is overwhelmingfly in favour of China.
6. Similarly, the growing dependence of the Chinese manufacturing industruies on the Indian market could moderate Chinese policy-making towards India in non-economic fields. Unnecessary political tensions in Sino-Indian relations could affect the growing economic benefit to China arising from the vast Indian market.
7. As against this, a likely negative impact is that the dependence of the Indian market on Chinese manufactured goods and the fascination of the Indian consumers for Chinese goods could come in the way of our being able to develop our own manufacturing industries.
8. The flood of Chinese goods flowing into the US market is not triggering off any undue concerns— apart from some proforma expressions of concerns from time to time— because both the US and China are almost equal beneficiaries of the expanding economic relations. Many of the Chinese consumer goods flooding into the US market are manufactured by enterprises set up in China by American capital flows. If the Chinese are earning more money by flooding the US market with consumer goods , the Americans are earning more money by flooding China with American direct investment flows and getting high returns for them.
9. This has not been happening in the case of Sino-Indian economic relations. The trickle of Indian capital flow into China has been in the services sector—mainly information technology (IT). There has been hardly any Indian investment in the sec tor of manufactured goods. Thus, the benefits to China from the flow of its manufactured goods to India has not been compensated by attractive returns for Indian investors.
10. The second emerging characteristic is in respect of the flow of skilled manpower. There is a greater flow of skilled Chinese manpower to India than the other way round. The over-fascination for the IT sector in India and the large salaries offered by IT companies have resulted in a distortion of our technical education system. The IT rush is making Indian youth flock to IT training institutions and there has been a declining interest in joining engineering colleges to specialise in subjects unconnected with the IT sector—such as civil, mechanical and electrical engineering. The result: India has been producing a surplus of excellent quality IT experts, who are able to find jobs without problem either in India itself or abroad, but it is no longer able to produce the required number of good quality engineers even to meet its own needs.
11. This distortion in the technical education system has not yet occurred in China. China’s ever-increasing investments in the infrastructure sector and the increasing involvement of Chinese companies in foreign construction projects—particularly in Africa— have sustained a high demand for good quality engineers. Chinese technical institutions have been producing all the good quality engineers it needs internally as well as externally.
12. The shortage of good quality engineers is going to be increasingly felt as we embark on a programme of improving our infrastructure. There has already been an increasing flow of Chinese engineers into India for the execution of the construction contracts won by them. Wherever Chinese companies win construction contracts, they prefer to take their own engineers in view of the language problem and also because they have greater faith in the quality of their engineers. In India, even if they want to employ local engineers, they say good quality Indian engineers are in short supply.
13. One has been seeing this second characteristic already in the power sector where many new plants are coming up in the private sector. Very often, the money is Indian, but the equipment and engineers used for the construction of these projects are Chinese. To quote from an agency report carried by Rediff.com on January 21,2008: “Who would have thought a few years ago that there would be a Chinese hand in the development of the Indian power sector? This is a reality today. Not only is Chinese equipment being deployed by quite a few power companies in the country, Chinese manpower from companies such as Dongfang Electric Corporation (DEC), Sichuan Machinery and Equipment Corporation (SCMEC) and Shandong Electric Power Construction Corporation (SEPCO) is employed in large numbers in the country…… The Chinese companies want to get their own people , because they know how to best handle the equipment and can do it faster. This also helps the Indian companies tide over the huge crunch in technical manpower in the country for engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contracts and operations and maintenance jobs….Since there’s already a huge shortage, they are not eating into anyone’s jobs. “It is not as if they are bringing blue-collared labourers to compete with the Indian labourers,” said a management expert. They are bringing people at the supervisory and engineering levels.”
14. Has there been a reverse flow of Indian IT experts to China? No. At least, not yet. Indian IT companies operating in China tend to recruit Chinese graduates in increasing numbers, bring them to India for improving their knowledge of English and IT skills and then employ them in their companies in China. Moreover, Indian IT companies in China are not yet getting as many contracts as Chinese engineering companies have been getting in India. The contracts procured by the Indian IT companies are largely from Western multinationals in China, which value their English knowledge and IT skills.
15. The Chinese companies in India are not recruiting Indian students, taking them to China to learn the Chinese language and engineering skills and then employing them for their projects in India. This is what the Russians used to do in the 1950s and 1960s, when companies of the Soviet Union were involved in construction projects in India. While we are prepared to help the Chinese catch up with us in the IT sector, they are not prepared to help us catch up with them in the engineering sector. The Soviet Union did not look upon India as a potential rival. The Chinese do. That is the reality behind soothing statistics. (28-1-08)
(The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: email@example.com )