India seeing benefit of China's slowdown

More Chinese firms investing in country but some Indians suspicious of Beijing's motives

The slowdown in the Chinese economy is set to benefit India, say experts, with foreign investments from China already on the rise.

Last month, China's largest commercial real estate developer, Wanda, announced an investment worth US$10 billion (S$14 billion) in the northern state of Haryana.

And in October, Chinese construction equipment maker Sany Group announced it will invest US$5 billion on renewable energy and housing sectors across India.

India's e-commerce sector, which has been going through a boom, has also seen an infusion of investments from Chinese firms. These include Alibaba Group Holding, which has invested in Indian e-commerce start-ups Paytm and Snapdeal.

Chinese-language Internet search provider Baidu is said to be in talks with several start-ups.

"It's clearly going up and there is a lot more in the pipeline because of investors and businesses facing more difficult times in China, where growth is beginning to plateau," said Mr Rajiv Kumar, economist and senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi. "They have to change their entire paradigm and look for higher returns or better opportunities."

India and China have a strong economic relationship, which they decided to delink in the 1980s because of a simmering border dispute that remains a constant source of irritation.

In spite of New Delhi's concerns about Beijing's growing footprint in the neighbourhood, China became India's biggest trade partner seven years ago, with trade now crossing US$72 billion.

Still, investment from China remains modest at a total of US$1.2 billion from April 2000 to September last year. In comparison, investments from Singapore, India's second-largest foreign investor, was US$25.4 billion from April 2000 to March 2014.

Chinese investments started growing only in 2009 and amounted to US$494.74 million in 2014, while Japan was US$1.4 billion for the same year.

This has been partly due to security concerns about allowing Chinese companies to invest in areas considered particularly sensitive, such as airports and ports.

But Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been keen to get Chinese investments into the Indian infrastructure and manufacturing sectors. Last May, during Mr Modi's visit to China, deals worth US$22 billion were signed.

Some also see a strategic interest in the uptake in Chinese investment, with Japan last year pledging US$29 billion in public and private investment.

"Japan has extended a helping hand in India's infrastructure; China is trying to balance the relationship by bringing capital... also in the backdrop of a slowdown in its own country.

"Abe came first with the bullet train, so it is a strategic move (for China)," said Mr Rishi Sahai, managing director of investment bank Cogence Advisors.

"But there are risks, like the Wanda investment in real estate. There are already so many apartments in the state. So is there a demand?"

While Chinese companies have traditionally shown an interest in sectors such as the automobile industry and in industrial machinery, they are now also focused on e-commerce, railways and power.

The mobile phone sector is another area that is seeing increased Chinese interest. Chinese telecom firm Huawei, one of the early companies to invest in India, is setting up a manufacturing unit in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, according to Indian media reports.

Mr Pankaj Mohindroo, national president of the Indian Cellular Association and head of the government's task force to push growth in the mobile handset sector, said: "After the slowdown there (in China), it dawned on them that this is a very good place to manufacture and it is also a market for mobile phones.

"Interest has gone up suddenly in the last three to four months. At least 10 to 20 Chinese companies call in a week to inquire."

Still, some say that in spite of the uptake, Chinese investments will continue to be viewed suspiciously by the Indian establishment.

Said Cogence Advisors' Mr Sahai: "We are suspicious... everybody sees strategic, security and political motives in the investments by Chinese companies where the state has a big stake."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 07, 2016, with the headline 'India seeing benefit of China's slowdown'. Print Edition | Subscribe