In this extract from his book – Superpower? The Amazing Race Between China’s Hare and India’s Tortoise – Raghav Bahl (pictured) considers the key issues that will define which country will reach superpower status first, while the infographic below compares key economic indicators between the two nations

China’s spectacular sweep, compared to India’s relatively mild rise, could tempt an easy answer, but it would be wise to remember that history unfolds over several decades, perhaps even in fractions of centuries. So it truly may be too early to call this match.

Do also remember that China and India were the quickest to bounce back after the Lehman crisis. China’s rebound, however, was accompanied by huge debt and deflation, as prices (and therefore demand) were weak. India’s turnaround was sturdier, caused by lower debt and modest inflation.

So in economic terms, India’s nominal GDP grew twice as fast as China’s for a few quarters on the trot – the first time that this happened in nearly three decades. This is what economists call a ‘lead indicator’: in simple language, it could be the one swallow which makes the summer, an early signal of change.

But before we spring to quick conclusions again, do remember that China is so far ahead that India’s fledgling momentum could easily get snuffed out. The imponderables are far too many; China’s ambition and confidence are, unfortunately, equalled by India’s poor governance and self-doubt. China could yet re-write economic theory, and India could yet blow its chances.

‘Can India fix its governance more easily than China can repair its politics?’

As with all good games of chance, there’s a joker in the pack. What if India were to graft some of China’s ambition and determination? Or, what if China were to adopt some of India’s democracy? Now the game gets really interesting, because the odds then move, from comparing economic structures, to figuring out which country can do what more easily. Can India fix its governance more easily than China can repair its politics?

Whoever gets this one right will win the biggest wager of the 21st century.


Further reading

Read more insights about India and China in Superpower? The Amazing Race Between China’s Hare and India’s Tortoise, published by Portfolio Penguin. Raghav Bahl examines the two Asian powers’ histories, polities, economies and cultures as he documents their race to dominance.

Grow global: building a business in BRIC nations, which is available to download, highlights the socio-economic, geographical and environmental characteristics that UK businesses should take into account when expanding into the BRIC nations.

Image: Alamy Images