China and India: The race to growth
The world’s two biggest developing countries are taking different paths to economic prosperity. Which is the better one?
By Jayant Sinha
First it was China. The rest of the world looked on in disbelief, then awe, as the Chinese economy began to take off in the 1980s at what seemed like lightning speed and the country positioned itself as a global economic power. GDP growth, driven largely by manufacturing, rose to 9 percent in 2003 after reaching 8 percent in 2002. China used its vast reservoirs of domestic savings to build an impressive infrastructure and sucked in huge amounts of foreign money to build factories and to acquire the expertise it needed. In 2003 it received $53 billion in foreign direct investment, or 8.2 percent of the world’s total – more than any other country.
India began its economic transformation almost a decade after China did but has recently grabbed just as much attention, prompted largely by the number of jobs transferred to it from the West. At the same time, the country is rapidly creating world-class businesses in knowledge-based industries such as software, IT services, and pharmaceuticals. These companies, which emerged with little government assistance, have helped propel the economy: GDP growth stood at 8.3 percent in 2003, up from 4.3 percent in 2002. But India’s level of foreign direct investment – $4.7 billion in 2003, up from $3 billion in 2002 – is a fraction of China’s.
Both countries still have serious problems: India has poor roads and insufficient water and electricity supplies, all of which could thwart its development; China has massive bad bank loans that will have to be accounted for. The contrasting ways in which China and India are developing, and the particular difficulties each still faces, prompt debate about whether one country has a better approach to economic development and will eventually emerge as the stronger. We recently asked three leading experts for their views on the subject; their essays may be accessed on the pages that follow or by clicking on the titles below.
India’s entrepreneurial advantage
China has shackled its independent businesspeople. India has empowered them.
By Tarun Khanna
China and India have followed radically different approaches to economic development. China’s resulted from a conscious decision; India more or less happened upon its course. Is one way better than the other? There is no gainsaying the fact that China’s growth has rocketed ahead of India’s, but the conventional view that the Chinese model is unambiguously the better of the two is wrong in many ways; each has its advantages. And it is far from clear which will deliver the more sustainable growth.
Together with Yasheng Huang, of the Sloan School of Management, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), I have argued that these approaches differ on two dimensions. First, the Chinese government nurtures and directs economic activity more than the Indian government does. It invests heavily in physical infrastructure and often decides which companies – not necessarily the best – receive government resources and listings on local stock markets. By contrast, since the mid-1980s the Indian government has become less and less interventionist. The second dimension is foreign direct investment. China has embraced it; India remains cautious.
These differences have an impact on the types of companies that succeed and, I would argue, on entrepreneurialism. Let’s look first at what kinds of companies thrive. China trumps India when it comes to industries that rely on “hard” infrastructure (roads, ports, power) and will do so for the foreseeable future. But when it comes to “soft” infrastructure businesses – those in which intangible assets matter more – India tends to come out ahead, be it in software, biotechnology, or creative industries such as advertising.
Thus manufacturing companies whose just-in-time production processes rely on efficient road and transport networks fare poorly in India. But businesses that are unconstrained by shortages of generators and roads flourish. Soft assets underpin even the Indian car industry. Unlike China’s car sector, which has expanded as a result of big capital investments from multinational companies, India’s has succeeded on the back of clever designs that make it possible to produce cheap indigenous models. India actually sends China high-value-added mechanized and electronic components whose production depends more on know-how than on infrastructure.
Moreover, many hard-asset companies in China exist because the government funnels money to them. The government can do this because it intervenes in domestic capital markets. In India there is no such government intervention. Hence successful companies tend to cluster in industries where capital constraints are less of an issue. You don’t need a deep reservoir of capital to start a software company; you do for a big steel plant.
The Indian government’s lower level of intervention in capital markets and its decision not to regulate industries that lack tangible assets (software, biotech, media) have created room for entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurial activity is fueled both by incumbent (often family-owned) enterprises and by new entrants. The former use cash flows from diverse existing businesses to invest in newer ventures. In biotechnology, however, Biocon emerged from pure entrepreneurial effort, as did Infosys Technologies in software. Similarly, hundreds of smaller versions of companies such as Infosys and Wipro Technologies have no government links, unlike so many of China’s successful companies.
Although India’s stock and bond markets are hardly perfect, they do on the whole support private enterprise. Here too, entrepreneurialism has played a part, even improving India’s institutional framework. Take the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE), founded about 130 years ago and until recently the most inefficient entity imaginable. It has become radically more efficient in the past decade as a result of the competing efforts of an enterprising former bureaucrat named R. H. Patil. With technological inputs from around the world and some fancy footwork to dodge entrenched interests at the BSE, in 1994 he started a rival institution, the state-of-the-art National Stock Exchange of India, which now has more business. In China, by contrast, the government tries to make stock markets successful by command, with predictably little to show for its efforts. There has been little competition indeed between the Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges.
Good hard infrastructure and the Chinese government’s decision to welcome foreign investment make it reasonably easy for multinationals to do business in China, and since they bring their own capital and senior talent, they do not have to rely heavily on local institutions. China has no shortage of homegrown entrepreneurial talent. But indigenous companies have a much tougher time, hindered as they are by inefficient capital markets, a banking system notorious for bad loans, and the fact that local officials rather than market forces largely decide who receives funding.
The pros and cons of these two models should be studied, and it is fair to ask whether China’s will hamper its economic development
China and India both have the ability to keep growing in their own very different ways for a decade or so. The Chinese government’s intervention in the economy – including the decision to welcome foreign direct investment – has brought a material improvement in the standard of living that India hasn’t enjoyed. It may also be that each country has chosen the path best suited to its own historical circumstances. But the pros and cons of these two development models should be studied, and it is fair to ask whether China’s approach will hamper its future economic development.
Huang and I believe that the presence of so many self-reliant multi-national companies has partly relieved the Chinese government of pressure to develop or reform the institutions that support free enterprise and economic growth. And the fact that many domestic investments still are not allocated through sensible pricing mechanisms means that China wastes many of its resources. Productivity and long-term economic growth, as we all know, thrive on competition, which is all too often stifled by government intervention.
When the two countries are compared, it is easy to forget that India began its economic reforms more than a decade later than China did. As India opens up further to foreign direct investment, we might well discover that the country’s more laissez-faire approach has nurtured the conditions that will enable free enterprise and economic growth to flourish more easily in the long run.
This article was originally published in The McKinsey Quarterly, October 2005, and can be found on the publication’s Web site, www.mckinseyquarterly.com. Copyright (c) 2005 McKinsey & Company. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.