India’s 77th Independence Day on 15 August this year marks the coming of age for the often structurally neglected superpower. Its stabilising and rules-supporting role has long been taken for granted, overshadowed by the overindulgence in Beijing’s rise and its consequences in the region and the world.
India overtook China in April to become the world’s most populous nation. Its birth rate is almost twice that of China and it has outpaced China in terms of economic growth for the past two years. India’s population is projected to increase for at least the next seven decades, according to the UN.
Increasing populations add to the advantage of stimulating new sparked industrial revolutions and progressive openings, as illustrated by historical examples and the case of historical Western growth. India remains a young and vibrant country, with 52 percent of its citizens being under the age of thirty.
In relative future comparison with China, India enjoys the higher parity of capitalising on its younger working demographics to align itself as a manufacturing power to rival China. Beijing’s ageing labour force and rising pay levels are suppressing its competitive edge. Rising internal demand and consumption with its demographic-backed progressive cycle remain favourable, with a rising working age population with greater knowledge and skill capacity which will push for demand for essentials such as food and energy as well as infrastructure investment.
India’s projected rise is nothing new. In the 1990s, analysis of a growing and youthful Indian population that would drive facets of economic liberalization to create an “economic miracle”, have created new excitement and buzz.
In comparative economic data and future potential, India can be argued to lack the depth to match Beijing’s seemingly runaway economic boom. China’s economy is about five times larger than India, Chinese graduates in STEM outnumber those of India almost twice, and Beijing spent 2 percent of its GDP on research and development, dwarfing India’s 0.7 percent. In the race for technological supremacy, it has been argued that China is widening the gap, where China is seen as the only global rival to the United States, holding 65 percent of the world’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) patents as compared to India’s 3 percent.
Chinese AI firms received $95 billion in private investment from 2013 through 2022 versus India’s $7 billion. While all these seem to project an overwhelming advantage to Beijing, Delhi enjoys the added capacity of fluidity and internal supportive tool of change, consolidation and an agile, adaptive and transformative readiness and resilience to pioneer future growth and sustainability.
Beijing is now facing one of its most serious internal and external socio-economic challenges, from soaring unemployment to growing inefficacy of its dual circulation approach and capacity to withstand the West’s critical technological embargo and exodus of top investments.
China’s entry into the World Trade Organisation in 2001 exponentially boosted its capacity in the economic realm, thus catapulting its confidence and projection in its hard power agenda as well. India has been bypassed in terms of economic overtures and dependence in the shadow of China, but the growing realisation of the risks being entangled with ingrained overdependence on its economic and market might and the implications on security vulnerabilities with Beijing’s growing bellicose actions has p-paved new openings in accepting India’s long ignored role of being a progressive stabilising role and leadership both in economic and security domains.
India has overtaken the UK as the world’s fifth biggest economy. It is projected to move into third place behind the US and China by 2030.
Delhi continues to reap dividends from economic liberalisation in the private sector, a burgeoning working population, and the realignment of global supply chains and top investments away from China.
One of the key central elements of India’s continued rise is its ability to grow its manufacturing sector and challenge China’s tag as the world’s biggest exporter. Enjoying its advantage of a big sized, well-educated and English speaking middle class, it propels its world class IT and pharmaceutical sectors. Besides, it has solid consumer demand, accounting for about 55% of the economy compared with less than 40% in China.
India is poised to establish itself as a semiconductor hub, providing the critical front in global supply stability and as a pivot away from Beijing’s efforts to secure the sector.
India announced a $10 billion package in late 2021 to incentivise the manufacturing of semiconductors in India in its efforts to bolster its strategic start. In its courting efforts, US chipmaker Micron Technology has pledged $825 million to build a semiconductor assembly in Gujarat.
Delhi got a further boost with AMD announcement of the investment of $400 million over the next five years to expand research, development, and operations in India.
India is China’s natural adversary, and although prospects and arguments for a complete pivot in their ties to an alliance building affirmation instead of an adversarial one would be for the good of Asia and the Global South, India’s model of progressive rise to a superpower status is simply too alienated from the Chinese version.
Asia and the Global South combined, are unable to afford to have a sole and dominant hegemony that will dictate the economic, security and political affairs of the region and realisation has risen that this burden cannot be pinned on the West alone to balance the power parity and to bring back a rules-based and normative order to this part of the world.
Delhi is a natural fit-in to this role, and its resilient internal capacities and reliability remain primed for the role of a value driven and principle laden hegemonic power that is steadfast on global responsibility, creating a mechanism of mannerism and status quo maintenance of the rules-based order.
This model differs vastly from the current trajectory of Beijing’s regional and global agenda, and Delhi’s current rise of both soft and hard power confidence and acceptance in providing reality-based alternatives to the region has changed new power parity and calculations. Both India and China share more than 2,000 miles of disputed and un-demarcated border, where conflict breaks out sporadically. The bigger and stronger China’s competitors are in Asia, the greater the prospects for a balance of power favourable to the United States.
In positioning itself as a strategic bulwark in the global scramble for semiconductor and chip advantage, Delhi has long envisioned the critical need to secure middle to long term returns and in pulling in the needed investment assurances and the ripple effects to the local economy and technological development.
India’s ongoing comprehensive strategic partnership with Southeast Asia offers a much-needed power parity balancing assurance.
In playing an integral role in regional and global security, India has doubled efforts to deny the momentum and grip of Beijing in the region, especially in the Indo Pacific. Its pivot to the region is nothing new, as India’s Look East Policy began in 1991, well before China’s growing influence and assertiveness became an issue in the region, as argued by Derek Grossman, a defence analyst at the Rand Corporation.
Modi turned the policy into ‘Act East,’ acknowledging the new context of a rising China and the need for India to play a more engaging role in the region which will ensure Delhi’s own long-term returns.
The future of India’s maritime security is interwoven with the collective stability and status quo assurance of a rules-based order in the Indo Pacific. What India lacks in China’s BRI capacity, it makes up for by providing its long-held version of its development overtures and model that are based on trust, values and a stable deterrent effect based on its prisms of democracy and freedom.
India’s standing in the Southeast Asian region continues to climb, with regional players realising the critical geostrategic importance of Delhi in a full spectrum of power measurement and future potential, not only in the lenses of Delhi being the traditional model of strategic independent and neutral alignment.
In the scientific frontier, Delhi continues to ensure it matches, if not surpasses, the space race dominance of Beijing, Moscow and even Europe. The Indian lander, Chandrayaan-3 projects a new space power and coming of age for the Indian space programme and dominance. It blasted off from Earth on 14 July, carrying a payload of scientific equipment as well as a six-wheeled rover for exploration of the lunar surface.
This is the third in India’s programme of lunar exploration, building on the momentum of its previous lunar missions and it comes 13 years after the country’s first Moon mission in 200. That year, it discovered the presence of water molecules and established that the Moon has an atmosphere during daytime.
The Chandrayaan-33 is projected to touch down on the lunar surface on 23 August, competing with Russia’s Luna-25 in a new era of lunar exploration.
While it has been argued that the almost simultaneous race to the moon with the Russian probe is a big coincidence, India has a distinct advantage, with the Chandrayaan-3 now already in orbit around the Moon with images taken and is twice as heavy as Luna-25.
Upon a successful landing, India will be the first country to perform a controlled soft landing near the south pole, marking a new first in scientific pride and feat for the country and the world.
India remains the indispensable power in the region and the world, and its current and future roles and influence in security, economy, technology and scientific advancement and assurances are only going to increase in depth through a positive and reassuring shield of trust, integrated cooperation and joint responsibility and obligation in ensuring a world that is stable, peaceful and adhering to the long held system of a rules-based and norms abiding order.
To ignore India’s coming of age in being the next influential global superpower will be a self-inflicting mistake, and it marks a new frontier of cementing India’s long overdue recognition and a place in the global power architecture.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.