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Indian CEOs take a bus past Shanghai

On a chilly December 1 morning, a busload of shivering Indian business leaders made their first journey from Shanghai to a southeast city nicknamed ‘dragon city’, which makes every car part except tyres and the chassis.

business Updated: Dec 14, 2009 01:23 IST
Reshma Patil

On a chilly December 1 morning, a busload of shivering Indian business leaders made their first journey from Shanghai to a southeast city nicknamed ‘dragon city’, which makes every car part except tyres and the chassis.

The Indian bosses — from banks to tractor, steel and drug makers — queued to meet the vice-mayor in a room with two golden thrones. Communist Party officials on one side of the room stared silently at thrice as many Indians seated opposite.

One by one, the Indians stood up to describe brands the Chinese may not have heard of — L&T, Thermax, Bhel, Infosys.

The global economic crisis has snapped awake this city with a population slightly bigger than the number of cars in Beijing but over 3,000 global companies — none Indian.

From January, India and China will enter their 60th year of diplomatic ties. But China’s younger business ties with India are now the focus of Chinese factory cities that must diversify for a recession recovery.

“I read about India’s 7.9 per cent GDP. Very marvellous!” said Zou Hongguo, deputy secretary of the municipal committee.

The interest is mutual. The recession has compelled Indian CEOs to face a China future beyond unaffordable Beijing and Shanghai.

Industry heads make frequent trips to explore a cheaper China like Changzhou, where business cost is a third of Shanghai’s.

Changzhou is in the eastern Jiangsu state. In 2008, India’s $6.3 billion (Rs 29,295 crore) trade with this state exceeded trade with entire nations such as the Netherlands and Russia.

India wants to collaborate to make hi-tech products. “We request Chinese companies to come and see the high quality products we manufacture,” said J.J. Shrikhande, China head of L&T and head of the India China Business Forum. But Changzhou is obsessed with Indian IT. “We want to put Indian IT in every sector of our manufacturing,” said Michael Liu, investment promotion director. In July, the town offered classrooms and computers to NIIT, the first Indian presence here.

Next year, Changzhou will be closer to Beijing and Shanghai, but cheaper. Beijing, over 1,000 km away, will be four hours
away by high-speed rail, and Shanghai 30 minutes.

The city’s Bus Rapid Transit system was finished in two years. “Tell your government officials to come and see it,” said a Chinese official.

But despite a 439 sq km industrial zone, Indian investors will face a shortage Changzhou cannot build overnight — skilled and managerial English-speaking manpower. “It’s a dynamic city but there are not enough managers, engineers,’’ said Nicholas Vautherin, Deputy GM of Longcheng, a Chinese company.