Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

Will India Surpass China to Become the Next Superpower?

| June 24, 2023

When India overtook China in April to become the world’s most populous nation, observers wondered: Will New Delhi surpass Beijing to become the next global superpower? India’s birth rate is almost twice that of China. And India has outpaced China in economic growth for the past two years—its GDP grew 6.1 percent last quarter, compared with China’s 4.5 percent. At first glance, the statistics seem promising.

This question has only become more relevant as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets with U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington this week. From a U.S. perspective, if India—the world’s largest democracy—really could trump China, that would be something to shout about. India is China’s natural adversary; the two countries share more than 2,000 miles of disputed, undemarcated 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 favorable to the United States.

Yet before inhaling the narrative of a rapidly rising India too deeply, we should pause to reflect on four inconvenient truths.

First, analysts have been wrong about India’s rise in the past. In the 1990s, analysts trumpeted a growing, youthful Indian population that would drive economic liberalization to create an “economic miracle.” One of the United States’ most thoughtful India analysts, journalist Fareed Zakaria, noted in a recent column in the Washington Post that he found himself caught up in the second wave of this euphoria in 2006, when the World Economic Forum in Davos heralded India as the “world’s fastest-growing free market democracy” and the then-Indian trade minister said that India’s economy would shortly surpass China’s. Although India’s economy did grow, Zakaria points out that these predictions didn’t come true.

Second, despite India’s extraordinary growth over the past two years—when India joined the club of the world’s five largest economies—India’s economy has remained much smaller than China’s. In the early 2000s, China’s manufacturing, exports, and GDP were about two to three times larger than India’s. Now, China’s economy is about five times larger, with a GDP of $17.7 trillion versus India’s GDP of $3.2 trillion.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Allison, Graham.“Will India Surpass China to Become the Next Superpower?.” Foreign Policy, June 24, 2023.