Political Factors

Updated 18 February, 2014

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:


Autocracy versus democracy

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 Chinese Christians. 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 retired from his post in 2012 and Vice President Xi Jingping was lined up to succeed him. BTW – Xi is another Chinese leader with an engineering degree (Chemical Engineering from  Tsinghua University). He took over as general secretary of the party and chairman of the Chinese Military Commission in November 2013, and as President of the country in March 2014, as planned. Li Keqiang took over as Prime Minister.

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”.

Xi is seen to be ‘of the people’. During the Cultural Revolution he was sent down to the farms as were many other urban youngsters Xi Jinping 习近平at that time. But apparently he took to his new role with great enthusiasm and energy and is well remembered by the villagers. Soon after being affirmed as the new Party chief in November 2012 he toured several poor villages in a remote province to see for himself the great contrast between affluent urban living and poor rural life. Although he is an engineer by training and early experience, he is alone now amongst the seven-strong Standing Committee of the Politburo; whereas the previous two decades saw the majority of the then nine-member top leadership as engineers. Whether by design or accident, this augers well for China.  It has spent the last 20+ years building infrastructure and manufacturing. It is time to consolidate and pay its attention to other more important issues – more later in this section. He is known to be forthright and relatively open. In his forthcoming visit to Africa, it is rumoured he will be bringing his wife – Peng Liyuan. Madame Peng is a popular ‘pop star’ in China and holds the rank of Major General in the People’s Liberation Army. This will be a first for Chinese leaders since the 1940s when Madame Chiang – wife of KMT leader Chiang Kaishek – used to be treated as China’s unofficial ambassador to the West esp to America. Their only child, a daughter, Xi Mingze, 20, attending Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, under a pseudonym. Xi himself has visited many foreign countries including the US.

Li Keqiang 李克强

Li Keqiang 李克强 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Li is thought to be the most learned leader for generations. He has a PhD in law and is fluent in English, another first amongst Chinese leaders since the mid 20th century. Not only that, he is not shy to display is fluency by giving a major speech in Hong Kong in English in August 2011, thereby informally saying that it is ok for Chinese leaders to speak in a foreign language in public rather than to pretend to use interpreters. It is thought he is reform minded and the team of ministers and vice premiers he has assembled seem to reflect that. Many of the industry and economic chiefs are known to be interested in reducing more drastically the plethora of State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) which many economist believe hold back private enterprise.

Critical issues facing the new leadership of 2013-2014 as acknowledged by Xi and Li are:

  • Rampant and pervasive corruption at all levels of government.
  • Extravagant and conspicuous expenditure by officials both when on official business but also when on private affairs, such as lavish banquets at every opportunity and use of official cars for domestic purposes.
  • Life-threatening pollution of water and air.
  • Food safety and general safety of chemical plants, mines, road and rail.
  • Destabilizing disparity between urban affluence and rural poverty – including the issue of c230 million migrant workers with limited rights in the cities where they toil ten months of the year. The public expenditure required to turn a rural migrant worker into an urban citizen is estimated to be around 80,000 Yuan ($12,664) in China, the Beijing News reported in March 2013, citing findings from the Development Research Center of the State Council. That totals some 3 trillion US dollars. A cost even China will find too large to handle in one go.
  • Paradoxical shortage of ‘blue collar’ workers exacerbated by the migrant worker situation; and increasing difficulty for graduates to find ‘white collar’ jobs.  Some 7 million new graduates will be seeking jobs in 2013, with a large number of last year’s graduates still without a job.
  • Excruciatingly slow move from an investment-led (manufacturing, building, mining, infrastructure and export) economy to a consumer-led (service based) one.
  • Similarly very slow if any move from State Owned Enterprises  (SOE) to private initiates. There are signs that the trend may even be in reverse.
  • Implicit property ‘bubble’ with large numbers of vacant properties built and bought for investment rather than for living in.
  • Unsustainable debt held by provincial and district authorities, often used to finance these vacant properties or sometimes for ill-thought through factories.
  • Continuing unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang.

In the context of these issues, all of which are internal, the territorial disputes with all its maritime neighbors pale into insignificance, as also China’s seeming inability to rein in North Korea.

As President Xi has said, unless these issues are resolved within the next decade, there is no assurance that the people will continue to accept single-party Communist rule as a given. Hence the major reforms started in 2012 and continuing in 2014.

2012 was a year of many public protests and many reforms. To name a few of the reforms:

These reforms have been consolidated in late 2013 into the Mass Line Campaign, which essentially means aligning Party and the people.

The biggest spur to reforms is the increasingly voice of the people – not only through public protest, which is on the increase – but also via social media. Sina Weibo, a cross between Twitter and Facebook, carries more public protest and dissent than all the other social media in the West put together. Government has realised it cannot stop this as the internet is now part of the fabric of life for the growing middle class in China. So the only recourse is to make reforms when it can.

The one area where reform is not being mentioned is in politics and democracy. That may be a reform too far. However, the five new members of the Central Politburo Standing Committee will all be retiring in five years. They are uniformly not deemed to be reformists by nature. So perhaps when Xi and Li pick their own team of five in five years time we may yet see political reform. That also depends crucially on how the economy will have done.

China is no longer expecting double digit growth, but a 7 to 8% growth is still needed to ensure enough new jobs are available for the growing population; however small that growth is due to the continuing one-child policy, though even that is being debated.

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.


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.

BTW: It is interesting to note the symmetry between the national flags and that of the ruling parties.

2013 saw the long expected inclusion of Rahul Gandhi into the ruling circle of the National Congress Party. His reluctance may be partly due to the fact that both his father, Rajiv and his grandmother Indira were assassinated. But it could also be due to his natural inclination not lead with a high-profile front.

The Congress party met with major losses in important state elections in 2012. It needs to declare national general elections before May 2014 but that is likely to take place earlier than that. Prime Minister Singh is due to retire and there is no obvious rahulsuccessor. So Congress is gearing itself, with the reluctant leadership of Rahul. If state elections are any indicator, majority re-election is far from assured for Congress.  Time will tell whether he proves to be an asset or not in the 2014 national elections.

Communal/sectarian strife, both Hindu-Muslim and anti-Christian, continues as also the Naxalite insurgency. Fortunately, nothing untoward happened between India and Pakistan. And until late November, there was no visible tension between India  and China. But, as the previous section indicated, due to the printing of a map in new Chinese passports that show disputed areas as belonging to China, a new row has flared up.Naxal

anna anti-corruptionSadly a major anti-corruption bill was passed by the Lokh Sabha (lower house) but rejected by the Rajya Sabha (upper house). But it is not dead as the activists formed a new party in 2012.

Despite this set back, India has taken some draconian actions to signal its fight against corruption. In July, it banned the sale of huge stockpiles of iron ore that were mined by illegal entities. These operations going on since 1990s when mining was liberalised. Chief Minister of Karnataka was arrested along with several industrialists. India is no 3 in iron ore. The consequent drop of 23% in exports caused the market to shoot up sharply. In September, India decided to auction off the illegally mined ore, keeping 10% as compensation for lost tax revenues.iron ore

2012 saw the gradual easing of restraints to foreign investment in the retail field. Though public protests by small retailers have erupted from time to time, sometimes causing government to add restrictions such as to IKEA.

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Centralist versus federal rule

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.


:4th largest municipality in China

• Designated in 1997
• 82k sq km (~Austria)
• 30m pop (~Canada)
• $73b, growth 14% pa (2008)
• Home of one of 7 IKEA superstores


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.

India practices a federal structure where states have a high degree of autonomy. For example West Bengal and Kerala have enjoyed Communist rule for decades.

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.


Military comparison

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.

Early in 2013, China Daily reported: “China on Tuesday issued a white paper on national defense elaborating its new security concept and peacetime employment of armed forces. China issues white paper on national defense |Politics |chinadaily.com.cn.

  1. Members of the People's Liberation Army guard of honour, 15 April 2013The document, the eighth of its kind issued by the Chinese government since 1998, says China advocates a new security concept featuring mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and coordination, and pursues comprehensive security, common security and cooperative security.“China will never seek hegemony or behave in a hegemonic manner, nor will it engage in military expansion,” the white paper says.According to the document, China will build a strong national defense and powerful armed forces which are “commensurate with China’s international standing and meet the needs of its security and development interests.”The paper warns that China still faces multiple and complicated security threats and challenges.The issues of subsistence and development security and traditional and non-traditional threats to security are interwoven, the document says.“Therefore China has an arduous task to safeguard its national unification, territorial integrity and development interests,” it says.The paper elaborates on the country’s diversified employment of the armed forces in peaceful times, saying that it responds to China’s core security needs and aims to maintain peace, contain crises and win wars.Chinese armed forces are employed to safeguard borders, coastal and territorial air security and they will strengthen combat-readiness and combat-oriented exercises and drills, it says.And they will readily respond to and resolutely deter any provocative action which undermines China’s sovereignty, security and territorial integrity.Transparency moveIn this paper, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for the first time reveals the actual number of army, navy and air force servicemen, designations of its army combined corps and the main missile lineup.China now has about 850,000 army servicemen in 18 combined corps and additional independent combined operational divisions (brigades), according to the paper.The combined corps, composed of divisions and brigades, are respectively under seven military area commands.Currently, the PLA Navy has a total strength of 235,000 officers and men, and commands three fleets — the Beihai Fleet, the Donghai Fleet and the Nanhai Fleet.The PLA Air Force now has about 398,000 officers and men and an air command in each of the seven military area commands of Shenyang, Beijing, Lanzhou, Jinan, Nanjing, Guangzhou and Chengdu. In addition, it boasts one airborne corps.The PLA Second Artillery Force, the country’s core force for strategic deterrence, is composed of nuclear and conventional missile forces and operational support units, according to the paper.It is equipped with a series of “Dong Feng”  ballistic missiles and  ”Chang Jian” cruise missiles.It also has under its command missile bases, training bases, specialized support units, academies and research institutions.”


For 2014, the USA has the largest military budget – $600m, $2,000 per capita; whereas China’s is $112m, $83 p.c. and India is $36m, $29 p.c. Russia’s budget is $62m, $475 p.c.; UK $57m, $900 p.c. Source: http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/02/12/275885249/global-military-spending-set-to-rise-in-2014


Imperial ambitions?

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.


Until 2012, there had been a simmering tension around disputed territory in South China Sea and East China Sea with China and its maritime neighbours claiming ownership of small islands, mostly uninhabited through its declaration of a wide sea boundary. In 2102, this tension erupted into several incidents involving most of the neighbouring countries including Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Unfortunately Japan exacerbated the tension by nationalising disputed islands. This caused a public outcry in China resulting in Japanese cars and car showrooms being torched. So much so that Toyota, Nissan and Honda all showed depressed figures in September and October.

China then went on the offensive and in mid November 2012 added a map to its passport showing disputed territories as within its boundary. That also included Himalayan areas disputes with India. Consequently, the countries who are in disagreement including Vietnam, Taiwan and India, are countering by taking steps such as stamping visas on attached paper rather than in the Chinese passports!

Despite assurances from both China and India that the border issue is not critical, India has been beefing up its Himalayan defences and sending its navy to South China Sea to protect its oil and gas interests there.

ASEAN NOv 12Mr Obama is pouring oil on trouble waters by announcing a collaboration pact around the Pacific that excludes China. And the November 2012 summit of ASEAN nations exhibited dissent for the first time, with China almost in total isolation.

In late 2013, China declared an Aircraft Defence Identification Zone that extends well beyond normal limits.  This has, naturally, exacerbated the situation.

The territorial disputes, if not, resolved soon, could be the source of major disruption as all the neighbours are strong trading partners with China and the disputed waters is a major shipping channel for a major part of goods from and to China, yet where national sovereignty is concerned, nations often become irrational. Unfortunately Japan re-elected its right wing party to take over again. One of the first speeches made by Abe the Premier was to declare that Japan needs to look after its territories. Wars have been fought in the past and who is to say it will not happen in the Pacific region again. God forbid.


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 2013 of seven include only two engineers. Perhaps China will take a more humanist view of developments and progress.

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