As the managing director who introduced smartphone vendor Xiaomi to India in 2014, Manu Kumar Jain was the face of the Chinese-owned firm. He even danced in its advert campaigns.
Under Jain, Xiaomi’s rise was swift. It jumped from 6 per cent of India’s smartphone market in 2016 to 27 per cent three years later, beating Indian manufacturers and South Korea’s Samsung and paving the best way for different Chinese marques. Today, about three-quarters of India’s market is managed by Chinese-owned corporations.
With Jain the poster boy for India’s cell phone revolution, Xiaomi says it has bought greater than 200mn smartphones within the $38bn income market. But that meteoric rise is in danger, with India’s monetary enforcement authorities accusing Xiaomi of unlawfully remitting $725mn overseas.
The case is being watched for what it means for the way forward for Chinese tech teams in India, because the beforehand decimated native competitors tentatively revives. Billionaire Mukesh Ambani launched the inexpensive “JioPhone Next” final yr, though it has but to make an impression.
India has an uneasy relationship with the Chinese expertise it depends on. After deadly 2020 border clashes, it banned many Chinese apps, together with a number of made by Xiaomi, whereas making clear that telecom corporations shouldn’t use Huawei expertise.
Given “escalating geopolitical tensions between India and China, many may be tempted to view this investigation as part of an orchestrated campaign against Chinese economic interests in India”, mentioned Promod Nair, a senior advocate.
The Indian courts should “resolve the dispute quickly and dispassionately in order to dispel any apprehensions that foreign investors may have about the investment climate”, added Nair.
Although Xiaomi shouldn’t be provisioning for losses, hassle with the Indian authorities creates extra challenges because it defends its dominance within the fast-growing market, and because it contends with investor doubts — Xiaomi’s share worth has tumbled 40 per cent in Hong Kong this yr.
When it arrived in India, “Xiaomi came and took the market by storm”, mentioned Prachir Singh, an analyst at Counterpoint Research.
Xiaomi moved sooner than rivals to produce 4G-ready handsets when Ambani’s Jio cell community upturned India’s telecoms market in 2016 with low-cost 4G providers. It stored prices down by promoting Redmi telephones on-line for lower than Rs10,000 ($130) by way of ecommerce platforms akin to Amazon and Flipkart, at a time when, Singh mentioned, “nobody thought it could be done in an online scenario”.
Through partnerships, together with with Taiwan’s Foxconn, Xiaomi’s telephones had been largely manufactured in India below the federal government’s “Make in India” scheme. Jain posted selfies with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
— Manu Kumar Jain (@manukumarjain) March 27, 2017
But rival low-cost Chinese manufacturers now threaten its market share — Oppo, Vivo and realme arrived after Xiaomi disrupted the market.
Xiaomi mentioned it put “small changes” in its market share all the way down to “supply chain disruption. We expect [the] supply situation to normalise by the end of this year.”
In an effort to cut back its reliance on the Redmi model, nonetheless its largest vendor, Xiaomi is increasing within the premium smartphone phase. It has pushed into wearables and is India’s prime sensible TV vendor. By rising its bricks-and-mortar presence, Xiaomi says offline now accounts for “half” of its smartphone gross sales.
But Xiaomi India took a success to its backside line throughout the pandemic. Filings with India’s company affairs ministry present Xiaomi India’s income after tax fell 31 per cent for the monetary yr ending March 31 2021, from Rs4bn ($51mn) to Rs2.8bn.
“Nobody goes out of the way to discuss profitability,” mentioned a former government. “You can’t remain a start-up for more than four years.”
In India, authorized specialists say Modi’s authorities is aggressive in pursuing corporates. Samsung was stung by tax evasion expenses final yr, and US firm Amway had property frozen this yr.
“The regulatory intensity in the country under this government has generally been very high,” mentioned Debanshu Mukherjee, co-founder of the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy in New Delhi. “Their (enforcement agencies) prioritisation seems to be loaded with some politics at times.”
However, Mukherjee added: “It’s not that they would go after folks without any violation whatsoever.”
Xiaomi’s woes started in December when Indian income officers raided the premises of “foreign-controlled” cell phone corporations. Days later, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence alleged Xiaomi had “evad[ed] customs duty”, and demanded Xiaomi pay about $85mn.
Then final month India’s Enforcement Directorate alleged that, since 2015, Xiaomi had violated strict overseas forex legal guidelines by sending $725mn out of India labelled as royalties, “on the instructions of their Chinese parent group entities”.
Xiaomi denies illegal funds and its legal professionals argue different corporations made funds to an unnamed US firm with out censure.
But freezing $725mn in Xiaomi’s financial institution accounts left Xiaomi “not in a position to pay salaries/wages to its employees”, Xiaomi’s legal professionals instructed a High Court choose, who permitted Xiaomi to make use of its accounts for enterprise bills, court docket filings present.
The dispute turned acrimonious when the Enforcement Directorate denied allegations that its officers had threatened Xiaomi executives, together with Jain, triggering a diplomatic salvo from China.
The Chinese embassy mentioned it hoped the “Indian side can provide a fair, just and non-discriminatory business environment for Chinese companies”.
Meanwhile, Jain, as soon as an emblem of how Xiaomi stormed into India’s tech scene, is now not in cost. He is positioned in Dubai and is now a worldwide vice-president at Xiaomi, in accordance with his Twitter profile.
Xiaomi mentioned that since mid-2021, its India enterprise had been managed by chief working officer Muralikrishnan B, chief enterprise officer Raghu Reddy and chief monetary officer Sameer BS Rao. Despite Jain’s departure, Xiaomi insisted “there is no leadership vacuum”.