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China business: The dragon eyes the tiger

What are Chinese businesses up to in booming India? More than you think.

A Chinese soldier looks into the camera at the India-China trade route at Nathu-La, 34 miles north of Gangtok, capital of India's northeastern state of Sikkim, Jan. 17, 2009. (Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters)

BANGALORE, India — The Chinese are out to conquer the world, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the India operations of the giant Chinese telecom equipment manufacturer Huawei Technologies.

Against the backdrop of deeply rooted suspicion about a Chinese company making inroads in a politically sensitive area like telecom, Chinese employees of Huawei have hit upon a new strategy to win over their subcontinental customers: doing in India as the Indians do.

Chinese employees — especially on the marketing team in New Delhi and in the Research and Development unit in Bangalore — are adopting Indian names, going local in the fashion sense, celebrating Indian festivals and even learning a smattering of phrases from Indian languages.

Such is life as two of the world's fastest growing, and most complicated, economies come together for mutual benefit, profit and a bit of old-fashioned culture clash.

Consider Huawei’s Chinese employees Sang Jing and Yao Weimin. Those traditionally Chinese names are hard on the Indian tongue, so they are being replaced by popular modern Indian names such as Rohan, Rajiv and Nikhil.

“It helps the Chinese blend in India. It helps them click," said Gilbert Millicent Nathan, a Bangalore-based spokesperson for Huawei, which has 5,000 employees in India.

“Main Hindi bol sakta hoon [I can speak Hindi],” said Li Jian, an expatriate Chinese in Huawei’s marketing operations in New Delhi who goes by the name of Amit.

With language skills and a local name, Li Jian said he finds it effortless to forge bonds with Indians.

“Bahut aasani se,” he said, Hindi for “very easily.”

Female Chinese employees at Huawei’s Indian headquarters in Gurgaon outside Delhi are adopting the sari and the salwar kameez, quintessential Indian garments. They are also assuming names such as Deepika and Priyanka, after the country’s hottest Bollywood stars.

In yet another move, Huawei said it would establish a board of directors for its Indian unit that would consist entirely of Indians. India, one of the fastest growing telecom markets in the world, is an important market for Chinese equipment makers.