Given a choice of being the disruptor or the disrupted, many would prefer to choose the former. But it’s not as easy as just flipping a switch and subsequently reaping the benefits of a forward-looking vision, new product categories, and forthcoming patents. Instead, an organisation has to proactively acquire this innovation and intellectual capital from somewhere.
From the perspective of 19th-century visitors to the United States, the country’s system of higher education was a joke. It wasn’t even a system, just a random assortment of institutions claiming to be colleges that were scattered around the countryside…But by the second half of the 20th century, it had assumed a dominant position in the world market in higher education. How did this remarkable transformation come about?
In the long history of misinformation, the current outbreak of fake news has already secured a special place, with the president’s personal adviser, Kellyanne Conway, going so far as to invent a Kentucky massacre in order to defend a ban on travelers from seven Muslim countries. But the concoction of alternative facts is hardly rare, and the equivalent of today’s poisonous, bite-size texts and tweets can be found in most periods of history, going back to the ancients.
People all around seem rather agitated with the start of a new regime in the United States. And yes, I am using the word regime, which the Western media usually uses for rogue and unpredictable governments for only one reason: the new administration in Washington is unpredictable and can indeed go rogue, or so some Americans would want you to believe.
Donald Trump, the new president, has ignited passions in a manner unseen in recent memory – upsetting not only hordes of Americans, but also intelligent folks around the world who seem to widely believe that he might be the ultimate disaster to hit all of us.
However, it is not the end of the world, Not yet.
Let’s be fair to Trump and the process of democracy that brought him to power. Those who are complaining are Americans who either did not vote for him or many like us who are citizens of other countries and, therefore, ineligible to vote in U.S. elections. Both these constituencies have no reason to crib, so let’s hear what Trump is saying. There is a fair chance that if he is making sense to some, he might start making sense to all.
Lets also understand that Trump, who has never held a government office or been in military, will click very differently than many of his predecessors who were active in politics or military before they assumed the high office.
Since Trump is essentially a businessman, an unabashed profiteer and a salesman (who has done well to create his own brand across many countries), for him world affairs, global diplomacy and international trade will always be about negotiations and deals – both of which he is good at.
Should we complain about a man – whatever his past may be (and Trump’s not exactly without in-your-face blemishes) – just because he is different from his predecessors and doesn’t conform to our “global” definition of a politician or a president?
Eventually what matters to Trump and those who voted for him is whether he delivers what he promised to. There is no problem with his “America First” for Americans. If the rest of the world has a problem with it, it is not Trump’s problem and the 45th U.S. president seems to know it well – at least for the time being.
China, Europe and even Indian IT companies can fret because Trump’s policies can hit their businesses in the United States; for Trump what matters is looking after his country’s interests – whether they be jobs, infrastructure or Islamic radicals. As president of his country he is first answerable to and responsible for the people of his country. In short, national interest will drive him just as it did his predecessors.
We may not appreciate his front-foot statements and awful tweets, his name-calling and his orange hair or even lack of political and diplomatic etiquettes. What, however, we do need to remember is the world will have to deal with President Trump at least for the next four years.
Governments and businesses will have to, therefore, quickly learn to deal with his idiosyncrasies, his unpredictability, his awful spokespeople, his son-in-law who Trump says will resolve the issues in the Middle East and his purported closeness to Russia and its president Vladimir Putin. Americans will also have to deal with a man who doesn’t’ fit the role; the very reason he got elected and one who will do everything to undo whatever his predecessor Barack Obama did.
In the weeks and months ahead all of us have to get used to a new narrative from Washington. We have to get used to dealing with a penny-pinching, hard-bargaining businessman who will keep his interests (or should we say America’s interests) high on his list of things to do.
And that brings me to what former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s once-considered-gobbledygook theory of the known knowns, the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns. I’d put Trump in the first category. We do know him, and we also know what he will do — not very different than what he has been saying he would. What we still don’t probably have the foggiest idea about is that whether he is going to be around for four years or eight.
Good luck, everybody!
China has been the elephant in the room since Lehman Brothers folded up, triggering the last wave of global economic turmoil. It stood out as the biggest contributor to global growth in the past eight years. But now the bubble, long expected to burst due to a mammoth build up of debt, is popping the wrong way.
By Rahul Sharma
In the larger scheme of things there are today two countries that have the capability and the capacity to funnel substantial investments into foreign markets. One is the United States – the traditional home of large multinational companies with global footprint. The other is China, which is looked at with suspicion not only in India, but in the United States as well.
At a time when India needs to attract higher foreign investments – not only to bridge its gaping current account deficit, but to also create millions of new jobs – there is a need to look at Chinese companies differently than we have in the past. And we can learn lessons from the Americans, who worry about China’s rise as much as we do.
The first lesson is to be pragmatic. The second is to find a right balance between politics and business despite the usual noise that tends to drown reason to accommodate the interests of both sides.
Last year, two Chinese technology companies – Huawei and ZTE – were hauled over the coal by the intelligence committee of the U.S. House of Representatives after concerns over national security threats. “Chinese telecommunications companies provide an opportunity for the Chinese government to tamper with the United States telecommunications supply chain,” the committee’s investigation report said.
It recommended that the United States should view with suspicion the continued penetration of the US telecommunications market by Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturers and private companies should consider the long-term security risks associated with doing business with these Chinese companies. Of course, the two companies protested loudly as anybody would, but the report is now a permanent marker in US-China relations.
However, Americans turned out to be eventually pragmatic. They have not only allowed Chinese companies to invest in the key energy sector, last month the largest acquisition of an American company by a Chinese firms went through without serious hiccups.
There was cause of celebrations when shareholders of the US Smithfield Foods Inc. agreed to sell their company to China’s Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd for $4.7 billion. The deal went through despite initial concerns over national security.
Let’s return to India. The same telecommunications companies that got hammered in the United States have also been under the government microscope for some time. Every Chinese company looking to invest in India quickly becomes a victim of a 50-year-old narrative when India and China went to war over a border issue. Since the issue remains unresolved, the mindset demands that everything China and Chinese needs to be looked at suspiciously.
If for a moment we do agree that Chinese companies have sinister plans to destabilize India, we need to look West – towards Europe, Africa and both North and South America where cash-flushed Chinese state-owned and private firms have been on a business buying spree for some years now. While the big focus was energy earlier, the trend has changed as different businesses (going cheap everywhere post the 2008 financial crisis) are being eyed and bought.
Given that most American companies have virtually given up on India and are keener to invest in their domestic economy that is beginning to finally expand, the only source of investment that India could possibly look at is China. However, it has to be pragmatic and balanced in attracting the kind of investments it wants and in sectors where the threat factor is low. Let’s not forget that the eventual plan of the two countries is to raise bilateral trade to $100 billion in the next few years, and that opens up several possibilities for Chinese investments in sectors that are safer from a “national security” point of view.
While geopolitics will always continue to play a strong role in India-China relations, let’s also understand and appreciate that the two need each other – for different reasons of course. While it is in India’s interest to bridge its trade deficit with China, it is also in China’s interest to get a toehold in the Indian market at a time when its exports to the West are shrinking and its overall economy beginning to slow down.
Similarly, it is in the interest of Chinese companies to overtake Japanese and South Korean brands that have made India a strong home in the last two-odd decades. For India, which is now talking of allowing Chinese companies to set up shop in special economic zones (than let them run around freely in the countryside), the focus should be on getting the best deal for the government and the people.
National security, like everything else, is relative to the situation on ground at a certain period in time. India needs to handle matters with China confidently and keeping its interests in mind.
Let’s go back to the Americans again. Back in 1971, President Richard Nixon and his right hand man Henry Kissinger set the ball rolling to bring China into the global economic mainstream. The reason was geopolitical, For three decades after that American companies poured in billions of dollars into that country, bringing it to a point that now Americans themselves have started looking at China as an emerging global power that could overtake the United States in the near future.
The threat of China to the superpower is as real as it to a regional power such as India, which also happens to share a troublesome border issue with the large neighbor. Good business always makes for good politics and, therefore, it is in the interest of bother India and China to ramp up investments.
India doesn’t have to entirely follow the American way, but it can surely learn how to deal better with the Chinese by letting them in in a manner that helps New Delhi resolve its economic troubles.
(The columnist, a former newspaper editor, is President, Public Affairs, Genesis Burson-Marsteller and co-founder of Public Affairs Forum of India. He has a keen interest in China and Southeast Asia. Views are personal)