In a rare candid speech, the Consul General of the People’s Republic of China, Ma Zhanwu, on Saturday said that the conditions to attract Chinese investment and businesses to West Bengal “were not up to par”. Zhanwu was speaking at an event organised by the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce on ‘Furthering Trade ties between Indian and China’. He also addressed the issue of general “mistrust” which still exists between the two countries, which he said was getting in the way of furthering bilateral economic and trade relations.
“We had held an international co-operation conference in Beijing last year in which 30 countries participated. The Indian prime minister and his Cabinet ministers were invited. But it was not convenient at the time for the prime minister or his ministers to come. However, many Indian scholars did attend the conference. It was organised because we feel that countries should work together for common development.
“The next conference will be held in 2019 and we hope that the Indian leader will be able to attend it,” said Zhanwu, adding, “On the whole, relations between the two countries have been growing quite fast. But the Indian prime minister’s absence at the conference was played up by the media. We have great respect for India and want to be partners. Many diplomats in our country were disappointed when Narendra Modi did not come. If political relations are good it will contribute greatly to economic ties.”
“Of course there are differences between the two countries, there have been for many years, and they can’t be resolved overnight. But our border has been peaceful. We don’t consider India a threat nor do we want to threaten India. Our foreign policy is one of mutual benefit, peaceful co-existence, cooperation and openness. When we build a road or bridge, people here see that as a threat to India.
“There was an article in the Indian press about China restructuring a military building near the border and said this was aimed at India. This is not the case,” said Zhanwu, adding that the governments needed to address this atmosphere of “mistrust”.
“Many people see the huge potential of economic cooperation between the two countries and are sorry to see the slow progress. I myself get impatient often and would like to see more progress. We have come a long way, but China is anxious to see more results. Although we are neighbouring countries, very few Chinese actually visit India. Before, there were restrictions. The present Chinese ambassador had always wanted to come to India, but in order to do so he needed to join the foreign service.
Things are not so bad now and more Chinese tourists and businessmen do come. But it is difficult to convince many to come because of the experiences of those who have come before them. I ask Indian businessmen, and they tell me that 80 per cent Indian businessmen are making healthy profits. Then I ask Chinese businessmen and they tell me that they are making losses in India.
One particular company, which was to set up a factory producing animal feed, had to wait for five years before they could even start building the factory in West Bengal. Simply for digging a well they needed around 18 different permits from the government. They have only now begun the actual construction of the factory. In comparison, the same company built its animal feed factory in Bangladesh and it was up and running in ten months. It began production within a year. It is now making a profit. Needless to say, the India head of the company was fired,” the consul general further said.
“The best way to attract investors is to allow them to make money. And allow them to make money without having to encounter so much difficulty. I have asked my Japanese, American, Italian and German counterparts, and they don’t remember the last time any company from their countries came to invest in West Bengal, or if those that had come are still operating here. Over the next few years, China will look at spending 8 trillion US dollars and we want Indian businessmen to benefit from this.
“From 2018, we will be pushing imports more than exports, and in the past our priority has been exports. The Chinese company, Yangshin, has invested 3 crore US dollars in West Bengal, the most we have ever invested in East India. Help us and help the Chinese businessmen to find ways to invest here and make money,” said Zhanwu, adding that this would go a long way to encourage ties between China and India, and West Bengal.
Dinesh Jain, president of the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce, said that the bilateral trade between India and China had increased from 3 billion US dollars to 70.4 billion US dollars in the past 15 years.
“Currently, India-China trade stands at USD 70.50 billion, which offers tremendous possibilities for traders and investors of both countries. China is the 18th largest investor in India right now,” he added.