ASIA Rule No. 1 Beijing is not Mumbai, Mumbai is not Beijing

Sep 01, 2007 | 11:58 AM |

The problem with India, a top executive at a Western metal company told reporters recently, is that it has too much democracy. The one Indian national at the table responded with a rueful nod—and he wasn't just being polite.

Of course, the metal industry executive wasn't calling for an end to India's multiparty political system, which makes it the world's largest democracy although also one of the most chaotic. The point he was making is that it can be tough to get things done in India. And in this regard, India is completely different from the other developing Asian giant China. This fact isn't always understood as clearly as it should be.

In news reports about the growing impact of Asian countries on the world economy, India and China are often lumped together as if they form an ill-defined yet somehow unified Asian bloc accounting for a third of the world's population. But anyone who has spent time in the two countries knows that they are at very different stages of economic development.

A visitor to New Delhi is immediately struck by the immense poverty that is visible on the streets of India's capital, even as the country's burgeoning middle class spend their weekends watching cricket and browsing the well-stacked aisles of the new supermarkets. China's far more sizeable middle class also spend their weekends shopping, although the prevalence of luxury goods stores in the country's biggest cities gives a hint to the comparative purchasing power of the two countries' nouveaux riche. But while there is certainly poverty in Beijing, and even more deprivation in the countryside, China's capital city enjoys living standards far closer to those of the developed world than does any Indian city.....

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