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Vajpayee hardsells IT bridge

Shanghai, June 26: The trade leap over the Himalayan pass at Nathu-la is at best symbolic, given the small volume of land border trade between India and China.

The new dawn of an economic engagement between India and China could break on the Huangpu river here.

And the new economy of that dawn could be information technology. That was Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s message to Chinese IT companies and professionals at the dazzling Shanghai International Convention centre here this morning.

Also, if the Indian IT sector needed a new place under the sun, this must be it, Vajpayee must have been convinced as he had a panoramic view of shiny new Shanghai from the observation deck of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, a 468-metre-high architectural wonder designed like a space module.

He listed the world’s lure of India’s IT charms. The market capitalisation of the Indian software industry has climbed from $4 billion in 1999 to about $50 billion at present.

Its software exports are about $10 billion. Of the 70 global software companies with the highest certification for quality control, 48 are Indian.

One major Indian IT firm has recently crossed $1 billion in total revenues and at least two others are close to it.

Apart from on-site software development, Indian companies have ventured into IT-enabled services such as call centres, medical transcription, data digitisation, legal databases and animation. More than 500 portals are being launched in India every month.

The Prime Minister told the gathering of Chinese IT businessmen, organised jointly by Nasscom and the Shanghai Council for the Promotion of International Trade, that China, one of the world leaders in computer hardware, could benefit from the Indian success in the software industry.

“In combination, rather than in competition, Indian and Chinese IT industries can be a potent force,” he said. This principle could have a wider application in South-South cooperation. The Beijing Olympics of 2008 could provide an opportunity for IT firms of both countries to work together.

He suggested that the two countries could “even think of a joint institutional mechanism between the two governments” to work out modalities for IT cooperation.

Earlier, at a meeting here organised by Ficci and Businessweek magazine, communications minister Arun Shourie, who joined the Prime Minister on his China visit especially to explore bilateral cooperation in the IT sector, cited the example of the “unique manner” in which the European Union countries cooperated with each other for mutual benefit. His regret was that “in Asia we neither think nor act in this manner”.

Indian IT and IT-service companies have just taken the first hesitant steps — TCS, Aptech, NIIT — here over the past two years. The CII signalled a new venture by opening here its East Asia Representative office hours after Vajpayee’s call for IT cooperation between the two Asian giants.

Vajpayee’s visit, Indian businessmen accompanying him hoped, would make the Chinese IT sector, too, think and act on a new Indian destination.

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