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August 15, 2011

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Close ties herald 'Asian Century'

AS neighboring countries, the inevitable relationship between Chinese and Indian business is getting closer and strengthening Asia's might. Nazia Vasi looks at how some Indians are embracing Chinese language and culture to help boost these links.

As bilateral trade between India and China balloons to the projected US$100 billion by 2015, Indian companies and their executives are gearing themselves up for the "Asian Century." Arming themselves with the right language and China knowledge is considered pivotal in a world where unusual talent trumps being run of the mill.

Take Aditya Sharma for example, a young banker who decided to invest every Saturday afternoon at Inchin Closer's Beginners Mandarin classes, learning Mandarin from a native speaker, so that he could gain better international job opportunities. Or Neha Sehgal, a strategy analyst at a top 500 company, who regularly liaisons with her Chinese counterparts on projects and who sends text messages to her husband in Mandarin so the two can practice the tongue they are learning together.

Slowly gaining ground in rapidly modernizing Indian cities, Mandarin is seen by Indian professionals, traders, investment bankers and corporate honchos as the language of the future. With the American and European markets tanking, Mandarin and her four tones is a tune every aspiring Indian wants to sing to.

Already taught in some major Indian universities mostly in diplomatic Delhi and chaotic Kolkata, Mandarin is sought by students and professionals alike. Seen as the key to doing business with China, the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai has also recently decided to catch the Orient express.

In a tie-up with Beijing Jiao Tong University, Mumbai's premier technology university will host a Mandarin teacher for one year at their Powai campus.

Whether it's for business or pleasure, Indians are picking up Mandarin as they recognize the sheer potential in speaking the language of their largest neighbor and trading partner. Language institutes on their part are simplifying and localizing Mandarin for Indians.

"We teach pinyin phonetics via Hindi, India's national language," explains Royce Wen, a teacher at one of India's premier language institutes, who has lived in the country for more than two years. Hindi is a phonetic language and teaching Mandarin basics through Hindi, which every Indian is familiar with, makes Mandarin less daunting to learn and eases students into the language.

Wen's Mandarin language institute has grown 300 percent year on year. Starting with only one class in South Mumbai at the beginning of this year, she now runs three classes of 20 students each acrossthe metropolis.

As trade between India and China grows, tourist travel between the two countries has also soared. An increasing number of flights between varied Indian and major Chinese cities are leading to a mounting number of businessmen and tourists zipping across the Himalayas to check out their neighbor. Whether, it's for a trade show, a pilgrimage to Bodhgaya, a cruise down the Yangtze River, a meeting in Mumbai or a hop into Shenzhen in Guangdong Province, travel between the two countries has grown by leaps and bounds.

"A majority of Chinese traffic is to the major Indian cities, such as New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. It's mostly businessmen and engineers that come for a short duration to visit their offices or scout for business opportunities in India," says Rhea Nanavati, a travel agent in New Delhi.

Similarly, a majority of the passenger traffic from India to China is businessmen seeking corporate liaisons or sourcing goods from China. While flights are full to capacity during the Canton Fair (China Import and Export Fair), a healthy flow of Indian businessmen continue to fly to major Chinese cities such as Shanghai, Shenzhen and Beijing throughout the year, adds Nanavati, who has also seen an uptrend in adventurous Indian tourists visiting Chinese scenic spots such as Hangzhou, Kunming and Qingdao of late.

Language and bilateral tourism have boomed between India and China on the back of towering trade and commerce. The varying numbers of Chinese companies that have set up office in India and vice versa are also telltale signs of the growing warmth between the two neighbors. While iron ore, chemicals, telecom and power equipment remain the incumbent industries of India-China bilateral trade, a varying number of industries are making their mark in each other's markets.

From fashion brands and technology to sporting apparel and banks, diamonds and soft skills to pharmaceutical conglomerates and renewable energy collaborations, realizing the potential of each other's markets, Indian and Chinese companies are keen to sell to one another, court consumers and flood markets with goods and services.

Going ahead, new age industries, increased collaborations, symbiotic synergies and people-propelled progress will ride India-China relations to a new high. Language will fortify the ties culture has bound the two countries by and trade and tourism will cement trust between neighbors.

Nazia Vasi is CEO and founder of Inchin Closer, a premier India-China language and cultural consultancy.


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