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'Manmohan is India's Deng Xiaoping'

Journalist. Author. Entrepreneur. One of the Western world's top authorities on China.

James L McGregor, the former Beijing bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal and best-selling author of One Billion Customers: Lessons From the Front Lines of Doing Business in China, wears many hats.

A pioneer of the Chinese Internet, he served as an advisor to many Chinese Internet startups, and was the chief executive of Dow Jones & Co. in China, and a vice-president in the Dow Jones International Group.

From 2000 until 2003, he was a partner and the China managing director for GIV Venture Partners, a $140 million venture capital fund for technology investments in China and India.

He is a founding partner of BlackInc China LLC, an advisory firm which deals with cross-border investing involving Chinese and American Internet technology and online media companies.

In Mumbai for the Asia Society's 16th Asian Corporate Conference, McGregor took time out to meet Deputy Managing Editor Ramananda Sengupta and Nikhil Lakshman to discuss India and China, and the challenges ahead.

Is this your first visit to India?

I have been to India about half-a-dozen times, the first time was probably 1997-98, to New Delhi. And then during the dot.com boom I was working with a venture capital group called GIV and we invested in China and India in software and internet companies. I handled China but I used to come to India to meet with my counterparts and to see what's going on here.

But I haven't been here since probably 2001. And it's a different country. I feel a real change in India. Because China always gets reflected off me when they find out I am a China guy, and in those days, people -- I remember the Tata guys and many others -- when they found out I was from China, they said 'please come and talk to us.' I think they were worried about what's going on in China, and I could feel that India on those days felt insecure. Like India was not making progress and China was rocketing past it.

Now, I get a completely different feeling. It's like 'we are as good or better than anybody in the world,' and 'finally, we are on the move.' You feel very self-confident. I was listening to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh the other night, and I believe he is India's Deng Xiaoping.

He is the one who has taken it from a place where it wasn't moving much and was held back by a lot of different forces. He helped unleash a consensus and moved if forward.

I think he had a lot of help from two factors: Software and China.

The growth of the software industry in this country -- I am no India expert -- but to me it looked like it was the one place where the government couldn't mess it up. Because the guys doing software, they satellited it over the head of the government and over to America, and all of a sudden it created a vibrant sector. So all the politicians had to look around and go 'oh my, I better do something like that, I better support this.'

And then the rise of China, and all the indigenous factors, like the return of Indians from overseas, it has transformed this place.

'There's no comparison between India and China'

Photograph: Jewella C Miranda

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