Monday, 26 March 2012

Beyond China's public diplomacy

It is interesting to note how an emerging power’s arrival on the world stage generates an unprecedented media attention, and the innovative steps the country itself takes to promote its culture and voice to the world.
The Economist now devotes a special section on China - carving it out from the Asia section. The newspaper says for the first time in 70 years, it has devoted a section on a country (the United States was last to be included in 1941). Likewise all international media has a section on China (some also on India).
And why not: an interactive map comparing Chinese provinces with countries on the Economist website shows the country’s economic might: For example, Guangdong's GDP (at market exchange rates) is almost as big as Indonesia's; the output of both Jiangsu and Shandong exceeds Switzerland’s. Shanghai’s GDP per person is as high as Saudi Arabia’s (at purchasing-power parity), the poorest province, Guizhou, has an income per head close to that of India.
A student in Confucius institute
It is not that the world has suddenly taken interest on China. Over the last decade China has invested large amounts on public diplomacy to educate the world about Chinese culture. It has established 356 Confucius institutes in fifty different countries. In the UK alone there are ten.  This is at the back of huge aid and foreign investment in dolls out to other developing countries particularly in Africa.
On the digital sphere, China Central Television (CCTV) is increasingly expanding its global operation. Reports say Chinese state broadcaster is looking to increase its overseas staff by tenfold by 2016, and aims expand its audience base in Africa with English-language services produced in Washington and Nairobi .At the heart of operations will be six hubs: two probably in London and Dubai and others in South America and the Asia Pacific region. I have been watching CCTV in the UK, and must admit their reports are world class.
This is not just a state initiative.  A host of Chinese private channels have registered themselves in London to reach out to the Chinese diasporas across Europe.  However, close sources say that they are yet to see any dividends on their investment.
CCTV HQ in Beijing
On another front, Chinese second tier cities have embarked on global promotion and branding exercise to allure foreign investments and tourist particularly from Europe and the US. The city of Chengdu frequently run adverts on CNN , but also has an ambitious plan for a worldwide promotion which includes inviting international film starts, hosting a friendly English premier league football match and organizing an economic forum probably in London. Through a London based media company they are promoting the city by using classic panda pictures on 150 London taxis!

All these are really admirable initiatives and show the strong appetite of the Chinese to be right on the top. I remember listening to Professor Jonathan Spence, sterling Professor of History at Yale University and is recognised as one of the foremost scholars of Chinese civilisation on Reith Lectures a few years back. In the concluding part of a four series lecture on China, he talked about ‘Li Yang movement’. He said, Li Yang, a charismatic teacher had opened thousands of English language schools in China. 
 He demanded that his students shout every English word learnt to get over any fear of not  able to interact with  foreigners.  Professor Spence felt it is this shouting of English which probably has helped to equalize the sense of nervousness about coming and studying abroad. Li Yang’s banner read ‘conquer English to make China stronger’ – not surprised: most of my classmates in my master’s programme in Scotland were infact Chinese students.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Poverty in India's North-east

Pop into some of the dance clubs in down town South Delhi and adjoining Gurgaon, you will see oriental looking girls dressed in skimpy clothes, dancing in groups to ’entertain’ the men in the clubs. I later found out that they are hired (or given free entry) by the clubs to allure customers, and some of the girls are indirectly involved in prostitution.

Almost unseen to an outsider and sandwiched between posh neighborhoods of South Delhi is Munirka – an urban village.  It provides affordable accommodation to thousands of students, young professional and other migrants. It is crowded, cosmopolitan and is bustling with small businesses. This is also home to thousands of migrants from India’s North- eastern states- mostly from of Manipur and Nagaland, and also Nepal. Many of the girls dancing in the clubs also live here.
One of the local landlords, who recounted how this urban village has transformed in last 15 years due to the development of South Delhi, told me that when the oriental looking people first arrived, the locals – mostly rich but  uneducated – thought they were from Korea or Japan. 'We had no idea such people existed in India’!
India's Northeast has been historically underdeveloped, geographically isolated area, home to diverse tribal groups and far from the political capital. It has been a centre of militancy and secessionist movements, and has not benefited much from the country’s rapid economic growth.
The latest  poverty figures of India shows that the levels of poverty has significantly increased in five states of North-east  - Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland. This has forced thousands particularly from Manipur – an impoverished state that has been ravaged by insurgency- to move to bigger cities across India in search of work and better life.
Once in Delhi, the migrants from the northeast increasingly find difficult to get along with the local mainstream cultures .Regional sentiments run high. They complain of racism – they are generally referred as ‘chinkis’ ( a derogatory term for Orientals). The locals say they are ‘immoral’ and bring in foreign (western) culture.
The problems of the North- east are acutely complex and it is not possible for policy makers in Delhi to even conceive a solution without visiting the region. Writing in The Assam Tribune, an English daily, Sanjoy Hazarika, an eminent journalist, points out how the former home secretary, Gopal Pilai was appalled to see the desperate poverty while visiting a remote area, and made immediate donations for toilets to be constructed in a local school. He says it is this process of discovery that is needed not just by the government officials but also the media and other scholars.
The local and the state governments also should make concerted effort to boost the economy of the area through a combination of infrastructure development, cross-border diplomacy with China and Myanmar, and strategic marketing, bringing prosperity to the region.
The region has suffered immensly due to neglect of the succesive  federal governments and corruption at local levels. It is imperative to give a new sense of hope to the people of the region and make them a part of India's economic success.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

India is changing for the world, Indians not for themselves.

A day after my arrival in New Delhi from the UK, I went to buy a bottle of Coke. It was twice the price it used to be four years back. I told this jokingly to the shopkeeper. He winced and told me in Hindi: des taraki kar raha hai, sir (The country is making progress, sir!)
Progress indeed:  four years of absence from India can mean a lot. The country’s urban landscape is changing at a staggering pace.  For someone who has lived here, the changes meet head-on. As you land in New Delhi, you can only marvel at its swanky world class air port. The city now has a state –of the art metro system, the cranky old buses have been replaced by sleek air-conditioned high capacity buses and good roads and giant flyovers dot the city.  
It is precisely this image of modern India that the world is looking at (alongside China) with both awe and envy. India’s economic miracle, the rise of its huge middle class, its growing military expansion offer enormous business opportunities for various businesses in the western world. In 2010 -11 the leaders of the P5 visited India in quick succession. Britain in particular called for a ‘special relationship’.
India’s flair for frugal innovation and entrepreneurship and the giant strides made by Indian conglomerates in terms of global mergers and acquisitions are catching the eye of the world. India’s Tata is now the largest industrial employer in Britain.
This is the good side of India the world knows about, and I had come to India on a professional visit with a great hope of working with a trendy young work force with a high sense of work ethics and professionalism. But to my dismay, things were utterly disturbing at the management level.  Whilst I found people here are hard working, have tremendous aspiration and go an extra mile to help you, they are let down by a system or a culture of work that is highly demoralizing and pays scant regard for the people they manage.
The inefficiency is a result of a number of factors:  it is an agonizing mix of ego, sense of superiority, lack of empathy, ownership and good manners – all at the administrative level. The combination of these factors creates an impregnable bureaucracy where there is little co-ordination between departments.  It results in an incessant delay for getting a simple work done. 
Private sector in India is a beacon of India’s hope and pride, but for Indians to be happy at work and prosperous in their careers; issues in management structure have to be addressed. Attributes like inability to communicate politely, or failing to take ownership of an issue, or using rough language indicates there is something fundamentally wrong in the manner we approach work.
 What is needed is a proper training in human management and communication skills to create a work culture that promotes efficiency and professionalism.  Mangers at all levels must be trained to behave in a more humane and professional manner. They must be taught good leadership qualities along with basic manners like  how to smile, empathize with subordinates and trouble shoot a problem within a fixed time frame.
The first glimpse of unprofessional behavior is witnessed   at the New Delhi’s swanky airport itself where the immigration officers lack even the basic courtesies - clearly demonstrating how incredible we are.
The biggest problem, however, is that no one wants to listen to you, let alone understand your problem. It is really disheartening when educated citizens of one of the world’s most literary cultures behave in such an appalling manner.