The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

By all indications, India should be able to overtake China in the years to come.

As India celebrates its 77th Independence Day this year, the world witnesses the maturation of a superpower that has often been structurally neglected. Its stabilizing role in international relations and support for global rules has been overshadowed by a preoccupation with Beijing’s rise and its ramifications for the region and beyond.

In April, India surpassed China to become the world’s most populous nation. With a birth rate nearly double China’s and having outpaced it economically over the past two years, India’s population is projected to increase for at least the next seven decades, according to the UN.

Historical evidence illustrates how increasing populations can spark industrial revolutions and drive progressive growth. India, where 52 percent of its citizens are under thirty, remains vibrant and young, holding the potential to position itself as a manufacturing powerhouse to rival China.

While Beijing’s aging labor force and rising pay levels inhibit its competitive edge, India’s rising internal demand and consumption remain favorable. A growing working-age population, equipped with greater knowledge and skills, will increase demand for essentials like food and energy, along with infrastructure investment.

India’s potential rise isn’t a novel concept. In the 1990s, analysts predicted that the country’s young population would drive economic liberalization, creating an “economic miracle” and stirring global excitement.

However, some argue that India lacks the depth to match China’s seemingly unstoppable economic surge. China’s economy is five times larger than India’s, Chinese STEM graduates outnumber India’s two to one, and Beijing invests 2 percent of its GDP in research and development, compared to India’s 0.7 percent. In the race for technological supremacy, China appears to be widening the gap, holding 65 percent of the world’s artificial intelligence patents to India’s 3 percent.

Despite these advantages favoring Beijing, Delhi enjoys the ability to change and adapt, displaying an agile and transformative resilience ready to pioneer future growth and sustainability.

China’s current socio-economic challenges range from soaring unemployment to the inefficacy of its economic approaches. Its entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001 boosted its economic confidence and global standing. Yet, concerns over overdependence on China’s economic might and security vulnerabilities, combined with Beijing’s growing assertiveness, have created new opportunities for recognizing India’s role in stabilizing both economic and security sectors.

Having overtaken the UK as the world’s fifth-largest economy, India is projected to rank third behind the U.S. and China by 2030. Delhi continues to benefit from economic liberalization, a growing working population, and a realignment of global supply chains.

A central element of India’s continued rise is its ability to grow its manufacturing sector, challenging China’s status as the world’s top exporter. With the advantage of a sizable, well-educated, and English-speaking middle class, India drives its world-class IT and pharmaceutical industries.

India is also positioning itself as a semiconductor hub, announcing a $10 billion incentive package in 2021. Companies like Micron Technology and AMD have pledged significant investments to expand operations in India.

India’s approach to superpower status contrasts sharply with China’s model. The combined forces of Asia and the Global South cannot afford a sole hegemony dictating regional affairs. Delhi’s steadfast commitment to global responsibility and a rules-based order offers an alternative to Beijing’s agenda.

India’s strategic partnership with Southeast Asia and its efforts to balance power in the Indo-Pacific region underline its importance. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Act East policy acknowledges the rise of China and India’s need to play a more engaging role.

India’s space program also underscores its emerging dominance, with Chandrayaan-3 launching as part of its lunar exploration initiative. Scheduled to touch down on the Moon on August 23, India aims to mark a scientific first.

India’s indispensable role in security, economy, technology, and scientific advancement will only deepen. Ignoring its emergence as the next influential global superpower would be a self-inflicted mistake, marking a new frontier in recognizing India’s rightful place in the global power architecture.

Collins Chong Yew Keat has been serving in University of Malaya for more than 9 years. His areas of focus include strategic and security studies, America’s foreign policy and power projection, regional conflicts and power parity analysis and has published various publications on numerous platforms including books and chapter articles. He is also a regular contributor in providing op-eds and analytical articles for both the local and international media on various contemporary global issues and regional affairs since 2007.