China and India: Comparison of Political Systems


China and India are some of the largest and fastest developing countries in the world. They have many similarities, such as their neighboring position, size of the population, and millennia-old history. In addition, the proximity of two powerful countries forces them to compete and interact in the same political space, which should make their policies even more similar. However, despite their similarities, the political system of states has significant differences, as well as their political culture, national interests, and ways of their implementation. The different features of both countries are explained by the fact that they were formed under the influence of different socio-cultural, religious, and political conditions that separated the fate of the two neighboring states. These features also determined the direction and foundations of the policies of China and India, which reflected on the modern development and position of countries. Hence, this paper will analyze and compare the political system and culture of China and India, as well as their national interests, to identify and understand the features of modern politics of both states.

The Government

India and China are countries that formally have some similarities, but the actual realization of power takes place in different ways. Firstly, India is a federal democratic republic with a parliamentary form of government, which is reflected in its domestic politics. China is officially a unitary democratic republic, which, in fact, is controlled by the Communist Party with an authoritarian head. Both states have a division into three branches of government; however, while India reflects this structure, the power of China is mostly vested in the Parliament, which is also subordinate to the Party.

Almost all power in the state belongs to the Chinese Communist Party. This feature exists as virtually all state authorities subordinate to the Parties under the laws directly or indirectly through the appointment of the Party members in these bodies. President Xi Jinping also holds the posts of China’s Central Military Commission, General Secretary of the Communist Party, general secretary of the Central Committee, and he is a member of the Politburo Standing Committee (Joseph, 2014). These positions give him power in all organs, and although scientists reflect the gradual separation of the Party from the state, significant changes have not yet occurred (Keping, 2010). Therefore, one should understand, considering the further structure of the government, that they personify the decisions of a limited group of people.

In this way, China’s legislature is represented by The National People’s Congress, which is a unicameral parliament and has the power to consider and enact laws. This body also has the right to make decisions related to the national economy and budget, the declaration of war, the appointment of people to responsible posts, and control of executive authority (Joseph, 2014). Only local People’s Congresses are elected in China by direct vote, and then lower-level bodies choose upper-level members (Joseph, 2014). However, it is difficult for one to say about the real separation of powers in the state since the Parliament is mostly subordinate and made decisions that were beneficial for the Party.

Unlike China, India has a bicameral parliament, which represents the legislature in the state. The Rajya Sabha (the Council of States) is the upper house in which the President appoints twelve people. The other 238 members are indirectly elected through the Legislative Assembly and by the members of the Electoral College for that Union Territory (Ahmad, 2017). The Lok Sabha (the House of the People) is the lower house, and the people elect its members directly according to the size of the states or union territories (Mitra, 2017). The Parliament in India also has a multitude of legislative powers, oversight of the administration, adoption of a budget, discussion of development plans, national policies, and international relations. However, these powers are divided between houses; for example, only The Lok Sabha can decide monetary matters, and any law must pass a hearing in both houses and be confirmed by the President (Ahmad, 2017). Such a system demonstrates the separation of powers in a state.

Executive power in India is represented by the Union Council of Ministers, or the federal cabinet, headed by the Prime Minister. The government is formed by the party that received more than half of the seats in the Lok Sabha, or the President can invite the party that occupies the most significant number of seats for this purpose (Ahmad, 2017). The executive power in China, as well as the central government functions, is represented by the State Council headed by Prime Minister. This body has the executive obligation and powers since it controls the work of ministries, and central and local authorities (Joseph, 2014). The National People’s Congress appoints the members of the State Council, which again indicates the subordination of power to the ruling party.

India and China have a President who acts as head of state. The President of India has broad powers, since he or she has the right to convene Parliament and appeal to it, give recommendations on financial and monetary matters, represent the state, rule the national army, appoint some members of Parliament and have government insubordination (Mitra, 2017). However, his or her powers are also limited by Parliament, which helps to maintain a balance of power. The President of China is a more ceremonial office, although he represents the country in the international arena and also has some other authorities, which are, however, controlled by the government (Joseph, 2014). At the same time, in practice, the President also leads a number of important government posts and is the head of the Communist Party; therefore, he owns power, although it is realized through other posts.

Therefore, it is worth noting that although India and China have some similar features in the structure of government, their actual implementation is entirely different. India shows a complex system of bureaucracy, which, however, is aimed at realizing the democratic principles and interests of society. China, at the same time, demonstrates the features of an authoritarian society in which one party and its head trying to hold on to the fullness of power in their hands.

Political Cultures

India and China have a long history: they represented world civilizations, were part of the European colonies, and gained their independence in the middle of the twentieth century. However, despite similar aspects in history, the political structure and tradition of the states were formed in different conditions. Thus, distinguishing features of the countries’ political cultures can be noted in modern political processes and the structure of the state.

India is a confederation that unites representatives of many ethnic groups under its jurisdiction and is a union of cultures. In India, there are many ethics, districts, and territories, each of which has its cultural characteristics and even language. The government of the country cannot subjugate such a diverse and large population; therefore, it grants certain rights to the territories and does not try to impose one language, faith, or other national differences. These aspects of the political culture of India exist longer than the independent state itself, since the Indian people, under the leadership of England, already understood the importance of diversity and equality, which later became the basis of the state (Mahajan, 2013). These features also exist in the modern politics of India and ensure the stability of the country.

The political culture of India is democratic, and people can influence it both through representative bodies by choosing members of Parliament and the participation of numerous parties. At the same time, political pluralism and the bureaucracy that are present in political culture slow down the processes of making important decisions. For example, if the Parliament consists of many parties that contradict each other, the legislature cannot pass laws due to a lack of votes. In addition, the frequent change of the leading party can also affect the stability of politics in the country if people with different political positions come to power each time. Such a scenario is quite possible due to the cultural diversity of India and, at the same time, the insufficient level of education due to poverty in the country (Storey, 2019). Therefore, despite the opportunities that the laws of India give, the country’s political culture is at an average level of development.

At the same time, the history of the modern Democratic Republic of China began with the unification and equalization of all spheres of life. The coming to power of the Communist Party was reflected in the elimination of all the differences between people, and the transformation of private into the collective. These changes were supposed to help build a communist future (Keping, 2010). Propaganda, repression, and violence against the opposition became the main instruments, which eventually created a collective political culture with faith in an authoritarian leader (Keping, 2010). This feature also allowed China to leap in economic development, since tight control of the large working population, and the spirit of collectivism combined with an open market economy allowed to increase production.

These features are still displayed in the government structure led by the Chinese Communist Party and the country’s economy. However, He and Cheng (2019) point out that China is in the process of transitioning from a centralized to a democratic political culture. These changes can be reflected in the change of worship for authority to the elimination of blind obedience, the replacement of intimidation with a people’s interest in their rights, and the shift from collective to individual. Keping (2010) also notes that there is a gradual weakening of the Party’s influence on political power in the state. Such features are most clearly displayed in the free market and business, which is not typical for authoritarian states. However, at the same time, many facts of violence show that the Party’s role remains significant, and the people have mainly a collective political culture and limited opportunities to influence politics in the country (“China,” 2018). Consequently, despite minor changes, the political culture of China remains centralized, and the main political decisions depend on the Party but not the people.

Thus, it is worth noting that India and China have different principles of the political culture in the country and the features of its formation. The culture of India is more democratic, which allows it to take into account the interests of all citizens and preserve the integrity of the state. However, at the same time, these principles complicate the process of economic development and the implementation of political decisions. China has a centralized and authoritarian ideology, which is gradually acquiring democratic features. Control, propaganda, and neglect of democracy contributed to the ultrafast economic growth of the state; however, globalization is forcing the government to either increase the influence of the people in politics or, on the contrary, tighten control to avoid disobedience. Consequently, although the political culture and system of government had advantages for the development of the state, compared to India, it is less stable under the current globalization conditions.

The National Interests

All states of the world have the same primary national interests since the meaning of a state’s existence is also universal. Any country is interested in the security of its borders and sovereignty, as well as economic stability and development. However, although countries pursue the same goals, the methods and means of their implementation depend on many factors and can be the opposite or the same for several countries. This feature of international politics explains why the national interests of China and India often clash, even though countries follow several different paths in general and have different political ambitions.

In recent years, China has become one of the largest economies in the world, which can compete in GDP only with the United States. This development allows the country to implement large-scale projects both in internal, regional, and world politics and the economy. As Zhou (2019) notes, China’s national or “core” interests have already gone beyond the declared peaceful economic development, state security, and national unity. Although current interests do not contradict those officially declared, they imply more specific steps and goals. Zhou (2019) talks about the national unity of mainland China and Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, and Taiwan; extending influence on neighboring countries; expanding the sea power of China, and other goals of development. Equally important was China’s interest in reforming the current Western liberal order led by the United States. This interest also points to the country’s hegemonic claims.

However, while China still does not have enough strength to take the place of a political, economic, and cultural global leader, the main direction of modern politics is to increase influence in the region. One may note this aspect of China’s national interest in foreign policy activities and recent initiatives, for example, “One Road, One Belt” (Zhou, 2019). China needs to have an impact on the countries of the region, both because of the possibility of trade and realizing its own goal by representing the interests of the area. Enhancing maritime power is also a way to increase economic growth as well as political influence on countries that will depend on this trade. The realization of these interests will gradually allow China to confront the United States not only economically but also politically in future decades.

At the same time, such an ongoing expansion of China’s influence in the region is disadvantageous for ensuring India’s national interest. First of all, China and India have many common trading partners who could choose the side of more powerful Chins that will hit India’s economy (Storey, 2019). In addition, in the modern world, economic influence has significant political power, so India must maintain relations with economically and politically important neighbors to control the situation. A simple example is a territorial dispute between India and China over South Tibet, which, if the national interests of China are successfully implemented, will lead to the defeat of India (Zhou, 2019). For this reason, the national interest of India is also the maintenance and development of economic and political relations in the region and the expansion and strengthening of its influence on it.

Moreover, another example of the realization of the national interests of India is its cooperation with Afghanistan, which is its geographically beneficial partner. In the case of establishing friendly relations and profitable trade agreements, India will be able to use Afghanistan for the development of the economy, since it is located at the intersection of important transport routes (Sun, 2020). However, recent events and the establishment of Taliban power, on the contrary, can interfere with India’s plans and benefit China, which has never considered Afghanistan as an important trade region (Sun, 2020). Consequently, this example also shows the clash of interests between China and India, even in a country in which they do not have significant influence.

It is also worth noting that despite the significant potential, modern India does not show interest in global leadership. This aspect exists most likely due to both the political culture of the country and the government’s understanding of its capabilities. The primary national interest of India today is to achieve leadership in the region as this contributes to the confrontation with China, and also makes it the representative of the area in world politics. This leadership in the region will straighten the relation of India with global players and move it to the next level (Storey, 2019). Although modern India is not yet ready for such rapid changes, the implementation of regional policies will help achieve the underlying national interests of development.

Therefore, even though countries and regions that fall under the national interests of China and India are often the same, the goals themselves and the ambitions of the states are different. The main interest of China is to spread its influence to increase its power, while India is more forced to act not to lose its position. At the same time, India also has ambitions for leadership in the region, although it does not have such significant opportunities as China. Consequently, both countries will realize their national interests for development by using different opportunities and tactics.


A cursory analysis of China and India may determine that countries have many similarities that have been reflected in their economic growth in recent decades. For example, historical development, the size of the territory and population, and geographical location. However, a more detailed examination of the government system, political culture, and national interests shows that these states have more differences than similarities. India is one of the largest democracies in the world that is successfully and gradually developing its economy, taking into account the interests of the population. China is still an authoritarian state, which, although caring for its citizens, does not allow them to influence the political ideas of the Party. These aspects are the result and cause of the different political cultures of both states. The only significant common factor is the national interests of the countries as their geographical location forces them to fight for regional influence and economic relations with the same states. Nevertheless, despite different approaches to governance, both countries show significant growth rates and are some of the fastest-growing economies in the world.


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