China’s biggest import and India’s biggest export!

November 8, 2009

China’s biggest import is not commodities from Africa or India but human resource, especially in the big cities. From executives in MNCs to teachers, waiters, chefs, bartenders, musicians, artists, yoga teachers to businessmen, restaurateurs – foreigners can be seen working everywhere in China. Most MNCs have highest number of expats working in China among all geographies they are present in. This is because of two main reasons – China’s booming market (while there is a slowdown in most other parts of the world) and lack of local managerial talent in the middle kingdom. A few articles here illustrate the point:
It’s almost like China opening its doors to foreigners and saying “come and partake in the growth story”.

In most cases, foreigners who come to China either love it or hate it – it’s very rare that one would be indifferent towards this country! Generally, once one overcomes the basic culture shock, it actually translates to a better life with lower cost of living (the best part is that alcohol can be procured very cheaply), services of ayis (maids) and chauffeurs available for a reasonable amount, cheap takeaways (specially if one likes Chinese food) and good basic infrastructure; specially for a westerner.

The number of foreigners learning Chinese around the world is estimated to be around 40 million.
Why, even IIMA has students learning Chinese now, eager to explore job opportunities in the fastest growing country in the world. ( Jim Rogers has a Chinese nanny for his kids as he wants them to learn Chinese. In fact according to Jim Rogers, the 19th century was the era of the British Empire and the 20th century was the U.S.’ heyday. But the 21st century is China’s. So while we Indians pride ourselves on our knowledge of the queen’s language; mandarin seems to be the language of the future. (I will write separately on the language bit in detail).

Now contrast this with India, which has always been very good with exporting people but not so good at importing them. Indians travel well, adapt well, and the Indian Diaspora is well spread across the world. But is India open to foreigners – Bangalore has come known to be as the most expat friendly city in India. The local Bangaloreans have a problem with the IT culture; wonder what they have to say about their city being most preferred city of foreigners in India. Take the commercial capital of India, Mumbai or Bombay as I like to call it – as per 2008 data there were 4000 expats (including returning NRIs/ PIOs) living and working in Bombay (number of foreigners living and working in Shanghai was estimated to be more than 68,000 in end of 2008). Of course, the normal response to this as a proud Indian would be that India has a vast talent pool; we have Indians heading global businesses; so why would we need foreigners working in India. But the other way to look at this is having foreigners working in the country helps add to diversity and internationalize the work place. But alas, for the living and working conditions in India are not conducive to most foreigners – as there is no life in the work-life balance in India; especially in cities like Mumbai. The lack of basic infrastructure – housing, comfortable public transport, good roads (especially in Bombay) makes life quite difficult for someone used to good infrastructure as a given. Not surprisingly, the foreigners don’t exactly feel at home working in India as much as they do working in China.