In the day India surpasses CHINESE as the most populous nation in the world, the change for both countries will be psychological and symbolic.
China will still be a greater economic power, challenging the United States for full superpower status, but it will no longer be able to call itself the largest nation by sheer numbers.
In the current trend, the population gap will continue to expand rapidly, but what it means for their relative clout in the world will be decided by several other factors such as investment and governance. Demography is not destiny.
However, the moment the baton was passed to India will plant seeds of doubt, hinting at the possible limits of China’s relentless rise in the 21st century. China’s population of 1.4 billion is expected to start shrinking soon and at an increasing rate.
“The assumption was that they would max out the population in 2028, but now it looks like they already have, and that’s a big change,” said Ian Bremmer, president and founder of the Eurasia Group, a political risk research and consulting firm.
“The Chinese are facing a population contraction greater than anything that Japan or South Korea has experienced, and they will face it because they are only a middle-income economy, so this is a big challenge for them.” he added.
Not only will China’s population shrink, but its age profile will also change. Its prominence is no longer in the working age generation, but more so among the elderly. The number of Chinese citizens over 65 will more than double by 2050, from 150 million to 330 million. There will be fewer and fewer people whose labor force will support more and more retirees. profile will cease to resemble an onion dome in a Russian church and start to look like a kite, or a coffin.
China’s leadership can find ways to allow the country to grow, by increasing the productivity of working people, but it will take capital – and much more time. China is in a race, trying to get rich before it gets old.
Through that prism, China’s military spending is a bet that it will bend much of the world to its will in order to gain privileged access to resources. But if that bet fails, Beijing will spend a lot of capital it could use to adjust its economy to the offending limits, leaving the country stuck in a middle-income trap.
India will face a similar dilemma as its population grows. There will be more working-age Indians associated with an aging population that will need to be funded, but leadership will need to be nimble to reap the demographic dividend.
“The demographic dividend does not happen automatically, because a large group of young people must have jobs and they must be productive,” said Stuart Gietel-Basten, professor of humanities and social sciences at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi. .
Some countries have seized the opportunities offered by the demographic dividend, such as South Korea and Singapore. Those who do not face the challenge of increasing the number of young people unable to find a job, raising the prospect of unrest, which was the dynamics of the Arab Spring 2011 in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria.
The determinants of success or failure can be many and varied, Gietel-Basten suggested. “It will be about resources, about governance, about infrastructure, about location,” he said.
Carla Norrlöf, professor of political science at the University of Toronto, pointed out that external powers such as the US can seek to influence the relative development of the two population giants, by calibrating access to technology that will help determine growth. both of them.
“The US is now really set to limit China’s economic influence, and therefore India can push it if it is not targeted in terms of technology restrictions,” Norrlöf said.
In 2050, current trends show, only a few countries will account for all the world’s population growth, mostly in Africa.
Hans Rosling, a Swedish doctor and academic, said that the “pin code” of the world today is 1114, meaning that there are about 1 billion people in America, Europe and Africa and 4 billion in Asia. In 2050, the code will be 1145, with 4 billion in Africa and 5 billion in Asia.
It is possible that countries like Nigeria or Ethiopia can receive dividends and vault out of poverty. Whether they are or not, Africa’s poor representation in global institutions, starting with the United Nations, seems untenable. Stewart Patrick, director of the global order and institute program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that as the continent’s population grows it will become the focus of more geopolitical wrangling.
“It will be the second scramble for Africa, with quite strong competition,” Patrick said. “Africa is obviously a huge source of raw materials, including oil and gas, but also raw materials for the clean energy transition, the kinds of minerals that are needed to build batteries and things like that.”
The degree to which African countries can successfully manage their growth will only increase the amount of fossil fuel their population growth will meet expectations.
The huge energy demand will not be offset by China’s population decline, as its smaller population will still support the lifestyle of the middle class, which consumes more energy.
The steeper the demographic gradient grows between the burgeoning global south and the contracted north, the greater the migration pressure.
It would make economic sense for the shrinking wealthy countries of North America and Europe to get people to do work to support their aging populations, but that backfires.
“There may be a realization that the aging population in wealthy countries is a real problem and they need to import more labor,” Norrlöf said. “But I think that in today’s political climate, that’s not what we’re seeing.”