Asia. India has discovered that strength today is also in demographics

With a mid-century projection of 1.7 billion Indians versus 1.3 billion Chinese, the disproportion of their respective working populations may prove key to economic competition

With a mid-century projection of 1.7 billion Indians versus 1.3 billion Chinese, disproportionate working populations may prove key to economic competition – Ansa

In these days the population of the Earth has reached 8 billion. For many countries, demography has long since acquired an economic value, at a time when the trend in births and the aging of the population can affect production, gross domestic product and welfare. In India, to this aspect, a strategic value is added in the perspective of the run-up to the Chinese rival, which sees it at an advantage when what was once seen as a “problem” is now proving to be an advantage. The large Asian country, which once considered itself a “victim” of its demographic intensity, today looks at the resource of the population as a decisive factor for development, and has gone from considering it from a “burden” to a “raw material” of its plans and its ambitions.

This transformation is partly the result of the “green revolution” of the 1960s and of the accelerated development of the last twenty years, which provided more adequate food, work and income for a growing number of Indians, without guaranteeing widespread and uniform well-being. The situation in the country is certainly not ideal, if the latest global Hunger Index elaborated by the German Welthungerhilfe and the Irish Concern Worldwide placed India in 107th place (and at a “serious” level) among 121 countries, down for the third consecutive year from the 94th place it occupied in 2019. A negative performance also due to the Covid-19 pandemic and adverse climatic events that affected the harvests and price lists of rice and cereals. Overall, however, it can be said that today the Asian giant no longer looks with concern at the vastness of its population, which was 340 million inhabitants in the year of independence, 1947, doubled within 35 years and then reached one billion in the 2001 census, to rise today to 1.4 billion. A tumultuous growth, however due more than to the increase in births, to a longer life expectancy (70.19 years in 2022, double compared to 1947) which has rewarded the growing availability of food, medicines and sanitation. In the People’s Republic of China the life expectancy figure is much higher (77.5 years), however India has a strong advantage, looking ahead, over its big neighbor and rival in terms of generational mix, because it has 25, 8% of inhabitants under the age of 15, against 17.3% in China, and 67.5% of the population of working age, a figure similar to that of China, at 70.4%. With a projection (UN sources) for mid-century of 1.669 billion Indians against 1.317 billion Chinese, the disproportion of the respective active populations is even more evident and perhaps will prove to be fundamental in terms of economic competition.

The law which in 1971 tried to reduce the increase in population with pressure and coercive measures, contained some limits on the termination of pregnancy which were decisive in the long run

A fact that Beijing is already showing that it fears and which is also a consequence of the official policies addressed from 1979 until 2016 by the “one-child policy” imposed by Beijing through disincentives to births, sanctions for families and the promotion of legalized abortion as early as 1953, among the first countries in the world to do so. Today, China has changed course, trying to reverse the negative trend in birth rates through a series of stimulus measures, but also by limiting the use of abortion for reasons other than medical ones. With little success, however: in 2022 the birth rate fell to 1.15%, from 2.6% thirty years ago. If the imposition by law of limited offspring, aimed mostly at preference for first-born males, in order to have available manpower in relation to food and energy resources, has marked Chinese demography, on the contrary in India there have been extensive sterilization campaigns, attributing however to the termination of pregnancy, under health supervision, a “voluntary” character. Of course, forcing and impositions were not lacking in the “largest democracy in the world”, however the law which first, in 1971, tried to reduce the exponential increase in the population with pressures and coercive measures, contained the obligation for women intending to terminate the pregnancy to always seek the advice of a doctor, a constraint still present today.

The mandatory or legal discretion of practices aimed at reducing the birth rate have proved to be essential from a historical point of view to evaluate the current situations of China and India, without forgetting the role of gender discrimination which in both countries has led to an imbalance between males and females. In the case of unwanted births or births that do not conform to the wishes of the State or of the families, in fact, the failure to notify the parents in order not to incur heavy penalties, has produced in China tens of millions of citizens without identity, mostly women, relegated to the margins of society and well-being. In India, however, millions of unwanted births supported the illegal adoption racket, spawned vast areas of exploitation, even going as far as the horror of organ harvesting.

India will have a larger population than China before mid-century, but with a larger component of young people

In both realities, abortion has mainly affected single women, whose pregnancy is traditionally condemned at a social level and therefore often resolved clandestinely even under family constraint. Furthermore, while in China this practice has complied with the restrictions imposed by the state, in India it primarily concerned mothers with a number of children perceived to be at the limit of family possibilities. Overall, India remains a more conservative society than China. Women still suffer discrimination and economic subordination today and, as the Report on the State of the World Population 2022 compiled by the UN points out, with an average of eight deaths a day, abortion has become the third leading cause of death among Indian mothers. The challenges that await this great country will be difficult to overcome if not by calling the Indians to a collective effort to participate in the global reality which requires above all the full recognition and integration of all the components of society. The game of international alliances, in which the relationship with the United States has and will have a prominent place also with a view to containing China, will force New Delhi to make an effort to include so as not to in turn be penalized and perhaps sanctioned in terms of of rights and freedoms.

Interesting in this regard are the reflections of Kishore Mahbubani, a diplomat from Singapore, an internationally renowned academic and geopolitical expert, who believes that Indian politicians “have not understood why China has become such a strong economy”, overcoming five times theirs today. “China plunged into the ocean of globalization, fought to stay afloat, drank some water, but eventually became a stronger swimmer,” explains Mahbubani, paraphrasing the expression used by Chinese President Xi Jinping during the Davos World Economic Forum in 2017. The Indian economy could “become as strong as China’s if not greater”, but for this to happen “it must immerse itself in the ocean of globalization”, he adds. But perhaps also come to terms with deep-rooted social conceptions that the pro-Hindu policy in power judges functional to national identity, while indicating ambitious economic and strategic objectives for the country.

Asia. India has discovered that strength today is also in demographics