Comparing and contrasting India and China
In this section on this page, we start with comparing India’s democracy with China’s autocracy, including federal versus centralist rule; followed by a military and colonial ambitions comparison, and closing with a comment on China’s unique leadership. The pairs of pages that follow will cover:
Democracy versus autocracy
India is the world’s largest democracy. But it feels more like a hereditary dynasty with continuity from Nehru, to Indira Gandhi, to Rajiv Gandhi and now Sonia Gandhi (who calls the shots behind the scenes) of the National Congress Party – which won conclusively in the last national elections; with her son Rahul waiting in the wings. The National Congress Party ruled from 1947 to today: (except 1977-80 and 1998–2004). In many ways India is a single-party democracy.
Democracy seems to work in India. But economic and industrial progress, especially in the area of state-funded and led infrastructure is moving at a much slower pace than China.
China is the world’s largest so-called Communist state. But it is more market-oriented and capitalist than many Western nations – some of which are more socialist. In reality there are only c80m registered party members (around 6% of the population); in same order of magnitude as registered Christians of c60m. One estimate says that there are as many Communist millionaires as non-Communist in China! The Chinese Communist Party has ruled since 1949, a ‘centralised’ single-party autocracy.
Although transition from one president to the next has not always been smooth, China has avoided the violent transitions of the Russian leadership. President Hu will retire from his post in 2012 and Vice President Xi Jingping is being lined up to succeed him. BTW – Xi is another Chinese leader with an engineering degree (Chemical Eng from Tsinghua University).
Xi’s recent appointment as vice chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission (CMC) makes him the second civilian member of the CMC, after Hu, who serves as chairman. According to the party’s practice, only the CMC chairman and his potential successor can be civilian members of the supreme command of the country’s armed forces, all other members being career military officers. The CMC chairmanship is a post that the general secretary of the party takes to uphold the principle of “the party commands the gun”.
Hence, it is almost certain that Xi will succeed Hu as the party chief at the 18th party congress and then the state president at the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s parliament, in early 2013.
A view is developing that autocratic ‘state capitalism’ such as in China, Russia, Singapore and the Gulf States really work, at least in terms of economic gain.
BTW: It is interesting to note the symmetry between the national flags and that of the ruling parties.
Federal versus centralist rule
However, a state of emergency was declared three times:
1. Between 26 October 1962 to 10 January 1968 during the India-China war — “the security of India” having been declared “threatened by external aggression”.
2. Between 3 December 1971 to 1977 originally proclaimed during the Indo Pakistan war, and later extended along with the third proclamation — “the security of India” having been declared “threatened by external aggression”.
3. Between 26 June 1975 to 21 March 1977 under controversial circumstances of political instability under the Indira Gandhi‘s prime ministership — “the security of India” having been declared “threatened by internal disturbances”.
Some analysts attributed the Sikh separatist movement to have been accelerated by the third state of emergency. That, of course, led in 1984 to the assault on the at Amritsar and in turn led to the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards.
China practices a more centralist structure. However, due to the vast size of the country and the populous provinces, not all central laws or edicts are enforced with equal vigour by local authorities. On our web page covering ‘green’ issues we showed how local economic interests sometimes subvert central attempts to curb pollution. In addition, over the years, with four direct-controlled municipalities of Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and more recently Chongqing – accounting for some 80m population.
Plus the plethora of Special Economic Zones, together with the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macao; central government’s sway on local matters is not always as clear as Beijing would like. But for a country of 1.3bn, centralism is still very evident.
The military structure in India of over 1m personnel is loosely based on the British India Army, with a combination of regiments that are geographic/ethnic-based and others more general. So there is a Sikh regiment, even after the problems arising out of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Assam, Madras and Gorkha’s; and Guards, Grenadiers and several armoured regiments. Each regiment keeps traditions that started with the British, regimental flags with battle honours (mostly gained during the two World Wars on behalf of Great Britain). And dress uniforms that are really colourful.
The military structure of China is geographic with each of seven military regions mapping onto several provinces. However, most of the regional commanders do not stay in one region too long and tend to rotate. This is a reaction to the time of regional warlords in the early half of the last century after the fall of the Ching (Manchu) dynasty and the stability of Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT rule. There are over 2m active personnel and 1m active reserves. These figures exclude paramilitary forces of perhaps another 4m.
Although both countries have fought wars since their modern inception, these have mainly been border conflicts. In the case of India with Pakistan and with China. In the case of China, apart from its role in the Korean War (which it saw as supporting its neighbour and protecting its own integrity), with India, Russia and Vietnam.
Historically, neither country has had colonial ambitions. Nearly all the wars battles have been either in defence, such as King Porus who fought Alexander to a stalemate or various princely states versus the East India Company; or the Chinese against ‘barbarians’ from the Steppes or against the Western powers a couple of centuries ago. The only ‘aggression’ that can be attributed to China is the annexation of Tibet and the Uighur territories (now Xinjiang, or new province) of western China. But the Chinese would see that as consolidation of tributary regions rather than invasion of foreign territory. Though Kublai Khan did attempt an invasion of Japan only to be thwarted by Kamikaze, the divine wind.
Despite the travels of Admiral Zheng He (1371 – 1433) who is purported to have sailed as far as east Africa, China did not create any colonies. The large populations of Indians in Africa are due to British imports of ‘cheap labour’, ironically turned on its head today with outsourcing! And the large populations of Chinese throughout SE Asia are what we would term today as ‘economic migrants’, with the San Francisco population due to import of cheap labour for the railways and gold mines.
Unique Chinese national leadership
What is not commonly known is that for 20 years members of the Standing Committee of Politburo of Communist Party of China were engineers, not only by training by also by practice in their early careers. All 9 of the top leaders in the decade to 2002 and 8 of 9 top leaders in the decade to 2012. No wonder China’s focus on infrastructure, manufacturing and technology.
By contrast, Western leaders seldom have a science or technology background with a few rare exceptions; Angela Merkel – physics being one and Mrs Thatcher – Chemistry, in the past, being another.
The other Western leaders have backgrounds in political science, law and economics.
When faced with problems the natural tendency of engineers is to find solutions, they strive to ‘do better’; lawyers go for damage limitations, they ‘prepare for the worst’. Politicians end up creating more laws. Of course, they say when you get three economists together you end up with six different theories.
However, the new Chinese leadership of 2012 of seven include only two engineers. Perhaps China will take a more humanist view of developments and progress.
- China says not changing from its path of socialism (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- China’s leadership change on track (todayonline.com)