India is about to replace China as the world’s largest country

The UN has revised its estimates and now thinks will India will have a larger population than China within a decade. That changes more or less everything.

It’s a commonplace observation that we are moving into an Asian century. Indeed it’s rather trite. But that’s not the same as a Chinese century.

The Middle Kingdom will in the not too distant future become the world’s largest economy but before it does it will cease to have the world’s largest population. That demographic crown will pass to India. In the absence of a one child policy it’s birthrate is significantly higher than China’s: the average Indian women has one more child than her Chinese counterpart.

The UN has recently updated its projections and now believes the two countries will switch position as soon as 2022. And what’s more the gap is likely to continue widening. Indeed, it seems likely that for much of the century there will be 3 Indians for every 2 Chinese.

Anyone assuming that we are heading into an era of Chinese hegemony or of China and America carving up the world between them may be in for a surprise. We might soon be looking at a world where India has the largest population, China the largest economy and America the most powerful military. That potentially makes for messy geopolitics reminiscent of the run up to World War I. As that comparison suggests such complexity is dangerous with a rapidly shifting balance of power allowing nations to kid themselves that conflict is in their interests.

India’s rise may also require us to change how we think about democracy. Not for nothing is the American president unofficially known as ‘the leader of the free world’; since at least 1945 the success of America politically, economically and culturally has been the barometer of democracy’s success. But as Asia becomes more central to our perceptions of the world as a whole and India rises demographically and economically it rather than US may become the paradigm example of democracy. It is (somewhat simplistically) argued that America one the Cold War because people behind the Iron Curtain wanted Levi’s rather than Ladas. Soon people in autocracies may judge whether they want to change their political system by comparing what Indians have with what the Chinese do.

Source: the Economist

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