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China’s iPhone Factory Stumbles Give India a Chance to Swoop In

Manufacturers are concerned about relying on Beijing, and New Dehli is emerging as a primary alternative.

A Foxconn iPhone assembly plant in India in 2019. 

A Foxconn iPhone assembly plant in India in 2019. 

Photographer: Karen Dias/Bloomberg

When Indian workers claiming they weren’t being paid trashed an iPhone factory in Karnataka state in December 2020, causing $60 million in damage, the state-owned press in China immediately saw a cautionary tale for multinational corporations. Two days after the incident, China’s Global Times ran an article consisting of quotes from pseudonymous commentators on internet forums. “Factories in China are safest to invest in,” read one. “The probability of smashing and burning in China is extremely low.” In early 2021 the news outlet cited the riot in a separate article that called Indian industry backward, while suggesting that “geopolitically charged” Western policies encouraging its manufacturing sector were “political stunts that are doomed to fail.”

The articles voiced opinions that are common far beyond Beijing about doing business in the world’s two most populous countries. Chinese authoritarianism, the story goes, has fostered a level of industrial efficiency that a messy democracy such as India cannot hope to replicate, no matter how uncomfortable that circumstance makes governments in Europe and the US.