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  • Haozhen Xu

The Sino-Indian Struggle: The Fight to Become the Next Superpower

In the past decades, the world’s attention has been shifting towards the east. Two powerhouses of the world, China and India, both contain enormous industries and populations that provided the potential rise as economic and political centers of the world. Since the Economic Reform of 1979, China has been the pioneer of the fast-growing global economies. In March 2015, the Indian economy grew rapidly with its growing industries, surpassing China, and became the fastest growing economy in the decade. The two ambitious nations, separated by the impassable Himalayas, had been in competition with each other for a long period of time, but the conflicts that have been occurring in recent years are unprecedented.

● Economic Development

Looking back at the early 21st century, India has shown its great potential to compete with China economically.

Hard-hit by the collapse of the Soviet Union (one of India’s biggest trading partners), and the Gulf War, the situation of the Indian economy in the 1990s was not pleasant. However, its population growth gave this democratic former British colony an advantage over domestic markets. 1982 was the peak in terms of population growth rate in India, which set a strong starting point for the productive powerhouse of young people 20 years later. The Indian government has also tried to encourage foreign investment by opening up its market as much as possible. According to the Indian government statistics, “FDI inflows in India increased to $55.56 bn in 2015-16, $60.22 billion in 2016-17, $60.97 bn in 2017-18 and $62 bn (provisional figure) during the last Financial Year 2018-19. The country registered its highest ever FDI Inflow of $74.39 billion (provisional figure) during the last financial year 2019-20.”( These numbers clearly act as evidence of the importance of foreign investment in markets across the world.

China currently holds the largest population in the world, but the problem of an aging society lies in the near future. According to the World Health Organization, the population of people 60 years and older will increase from 12.4% in 2010 to 28% in 2020. (WHO) The once mighty working class of the reformed communist China will soon live with the reliance on public benefits, which becomes a big burden that the next generation cannot afford to pick up. China also has the disadvantage of being politically isolated. This limits the sustainability of China’s trade with Western countries, while India enjoys the beneficial American market by being an ally of the west. If India faces a major economic crisis, the United States and the west are most likely to help another democratic nation and ally. The United Nations also expects India's current population of 1.3 billion to keep growing and surpass China by 2024, meaning in the next few decades, India will possibly surpass China with its industries and working-class population. Despite China’s excellent performance during the fight against Covid-19 in 2020 which made its economy the only major economy that expanded in the year, this will not affect the economic potentials of India’s ultimate surpass of the Chinese economy in the near future.

● Social Improvement

Although both India and China are at similar stages in terms of development, China surpasses India in the improvement of social lives, as well as public policies. China and India can be considered as two of the most influential and culturally rich civilizations.

India, despite being colonized by a western nation, largely remained in the mindset of the caste system, in which discrimination between social classes still exists. China, on the other hand, went through enormous cultural changes under the Communist regime, like the cultural revolution. This allowed Chinese society to easily accept modern concepts of gender equality, public health care, public education, and more. China’s centralized government also has the advantage to conduct nation-wide projects such as the construction of the high-speed railway, and reduction of poverty. By 2019, the Chinese poverty rate was 0.6%, a magnificent improvement compared to 13% in 2009.

Yet, India does not have the ability to rapidly improve its social lives through methods used by an authoritarian state. Instead, India suffers from vast diversity-22 languages, six religions, and countless ethnicities. Poverty also strikes India hard. “India has one-third of all the people in the world living below the official global poverty line. It has more poor people than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.” India has also been notorious for its disturbing issue of child labor and the status of women.

Compared to China’s highly effective national security system, the Indian society is definitely more dangerous to live in if keeping political controversies out of the discussion. According to governmental statistics, the total number of crimes committed in China has decreased over the past years, amounting to 4.86 million cases in 2019, the lowest number in the last ten years. In India, the crime rate rose steadily from 2017 to 2019: it was 237.9 cases per one lakh population in 2017, then rose to 241.2 in 2019, said police sources from Indiatimes.

● Military Expansion

The biggest threats to China and India are each other. Therefore, military expansions of both nations and militarization of the Himalayas are significant to both governments. In terms of manpower, China has 21,83,000 active personnel and 510,000 reserve troops, while India has 14,44,000 and 21,00,000, according to Global Firepower. Technologically, China is ahead of India. The Chinese army specializes in missile defenses and attacks, which allows it to have an advantage during land combats. China also invented its own types of infantry rifles, the type-81 and type-95, which can be manufactured easily. According to, in 2019, the Chinese government reported an official defense budget of just under $178 billion, while the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimates actual (nominal) spending to have been $261 billion. Furthermore, as a P5 nation that can legally hold nuclear weapons, China’s nuclear arms are far more developed and authorized than India.

In terms of naval force, China has been focusing on manufacturing aircraft carriers, which is essential in modern warfares. The One Belt One Road program also surrounded India with Chinese-controlled ports that can be militarized in Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Unlike the Chinese, who have not been in physical conflicts with other nations for years, India is still struggling with Pakistan. In the months of November alone, clashes have left at least 22 dead, including 11 civilians. The North-western borders of India are already occupied with tensions with Pakistan. In 2020-21, the Ministry of Defence has been allocated 66.9 billion dollars. This includes expenditure for salaries of armed forces and civilians, pensions, modernization of armed forces, production establishments, maintenance, and research and development organizations. Direct conflicts between China and India also exist, however, if a major conflict is going to break out between the two nations, it is more likely to be a proxy war for China through Pakistan. Pakistan’s military heavily relies on Chinese suppliers, which is intended to target against the Indian interest in the Himalayan region. Even if India’s military somehow surpasses China, a war between them will result in the direct casualties of India, which is a huge disadvantage for them.

Collective, The. “Posts by The Collective.” Collective Responsibility, 6 Aug. 1970,

stockholm international peace research institute. “Pakistan.” SIPRI,

“Current World Population.” Worldometer, population/#:~:text=7.8%20Billion%20(2021),currently%20living)%20of%20th e%20world.


Photo by Vincent Chan on Unsplash

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