Demography drives the China-India-Russia triple deal

There are plenty of examples of bitter enemies turning into unlikely allies precisely because they pose too much of a danger to each other.

Britain and Russia spent most of the 19e century competing in the “Great Game” on India. Britain built the navy with which Japan defeated Russia in the 1905 war. But Britain and Russia fought on the same side in the world wars of the 20e century.

Russia and China fought a war in 1929 and an undeclared border war in 1969, but share common interests against the United States and its allies.

The next strategic alignment between past enemies could bring together two of today’s strategic antagonists, namely India and China. At first glance, this seems unlikely in the extreme. India and China have a long-running border dispute that claimed several hundred lives during a clash in 1967 and claimed the lives of dozens of soldiers last year.

But there are three reasons why a diplomatic revolution could occur in the next few years, and two of them are clear from the table below.

India will have many more people of working age than China in this century. And the population of poorly educated people in Muslim Asia will equal that of India and China combined if current trends continue. This represents both an economic opportunity and an existential challenge. It is not a religious question, but a question of cultural and educational levels, as I will explain.

The rest of East Asia, meanwhile, will become insignificant. Japan now has 50 million citizens between the ages of 15 and 49, but will have only 20 million by the end of the century at current fertility rates. South Korea will have only 6.8 million people in this age bracket, compared to 25 million today. And Taiwan will drop from 12 million people aged 15 to 49 today to just 3.8 million by the end of the century.

India surprised the United States by refusing to give up on its longtime ally Russia in the Ukraine crisis. Far from supporting US sanctions, India has developed local currency swap and investment schemes to trade with Russia in rubles and rupees and invest Russian surpluses in the Indian bond market. companies.

In retaliation, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken waved the bloody shirt of human rights abuses against India, the world’s largest democracy. “We regularly engage with our Indian partners on these shared ‘human rights’ values, Blinken said, “and, to that end, we are monitoring some concerning recent developments in India, including an increase in human rights abuses. ‘man by some governments, police and prisons’. officials. »

Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar curtly replied that India also had an opinion on the human rights situation in the United States.

For the first time, India found itself the target of the same kind of opprobrium that Washington directed at China for its treatment of the Uyghur minority, and at Russia for its actions in Chechnya and Ukraine. This exchange of disagreements certainly stems from America’s position on India’s position on Russian sanctions, but it points to trends in the region that will bring Russia, China and India closer together.

America’s humiliating abandonment of Afghanistan has left a pit of instability in Central Asia. The US invasion aimed to destroy the Taliban but ended up restoring them to power, at least potentially providing a base for Islamist radicals in neighboring countries including China and Pakistan, as well as in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Russia’s January intervention in Kazakhstan with strong Chinese backing underscored the importance of Central Asian security for Moscow, as well as Beijing’s concerns over Xinjiang province. In December 2021, Beijing and New Delhi held virtual summits with foreign ministers of Central Asian countries during the same week.

If current fertility rates continue, the United Nations Population Program calculates, China’s population aged 15-49 will nearly halve this century, while India’s will increase slightly.

Population projections, of course, are notoriously volatile, and the UN forecasts provide at best a general indication of underlying trends. Nevertheless, the trends are so pronounced and divergent that they will feature in the strategic planning of the countries concerned.

Aging populations save for retirement and countries with aging populations export capital to countries with younger populations.

China’s main destination for savings is the United States, which over the past thirty years has absorbed most of the world’s free savings and accumulated a negative net foreign investment position of 18,000 billions of dollars. America cannot absorb most of the world’s savings indefinitely.

China has sought other outlets for its economies in the Belt and Road Initiative, with mixed results. He has invested heavily in countries with weak governance and inadequate education.

India is the only country in the world with enough people and adequate governance to absorb Chinese savings. Moreover, China, better than any other country, does the kind of things that India needs to do, namely digital and physical infrastructure.

Unlike China, India’s economic takeoff failed at launch. In 1990, the two countries had the same GDP per capita. Today, China’s GDP per capita is three times that of India.

India still relies on a railway system built by the British at the turn of the 20e century. Its rural population accounts for 69% of the total, compared to 38% for China. It requires railways, highways, ports, power plants and broadband, which China has learned to build more efficiently than anyone else in the world.

Despite the natural community of interests, trade between India and China remains minimal. China’s exports to India in March 2022 were at the same level as exports to Thailand, and half the level of those to Vietnam or South Korea. This is the price of Sino-Indian animosity.

Countries that have made the leap from traditional to modern society almost all have fertility rates at or below replacement level. According to UN forecasts, Muslim countries with high literacy levels such as Turkey and Iran will experience a slight decline in the working-age population, while low-literacy countries such as Pakistan will continue to have children at the high rates associated with mainstream society.

UN projections show that the fastest growth in Asian working-age populations will come from Pakistan and Afghanistan, which have the lowest literacy rates in Asia. Only 58% of adult men and 43% of women in Pakistan can read, according to government data, and the actual level is likely lower than government reports.

Afghan data is unreliable, but the now-defunct government has estimated that 55% of men and less than 30% of women can read.

India’s literacy rate, on the other hand, is 77% (72% for men and 65% for women), up from just 41% in 1981.

In the Muslim world, female literacy is the best predictor of fertility (the r2 regression of the total fertility rate in relation to the adult female literacy rate is about 72% and is significant at the 99.9% confidence level). As noted, the problem is not Islam as a religion, but rather literate modernity versus illiterate backwardness.

The position of the Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union lies somewhere between the pre-modern world of Pakistan and the relative modernity of Iran and Turkey, whose fertility rates have fallen to European levels .

For China, Russia and India, this represents a strategic challenge of the first order. All three countries have large Muslim minorities, but each country’s circumstances are different.

Muslims represent only 23 to 40 million of the Chinese population, depending on the estimate, or less than 3% of the total. Nonetheless, the security threat that radicalized Uighur Muslims posed to the Chinese state was significant enough to prompt Beijing to incarcerate more than a million Uighurs for what the government called re-education.

In contrast, around 30% of Russia’s population will be Muslim by 2030, according to several estimates, although the data is difficult to verify. Russia’s total fertility rate had risen to a near-replacement 1.8 children per woman in 2018, before falling back to around 1.5 after the Covid-19 outbreak, and it’s hard to separate the fertility rate of Muslims from non-Muslims.

Muslims make up about 15% of India’s population. Their fertility rate fell from 4.4 children per woman in 1992 to just 2.6 in 2015, still higher than the fertility rate of 2.1 among Hindus, but converging.

Twice in the past year, US foreign policy has pushed China, India and Russia into the same strategic corner: America’s humiliating abandonment of Afghanistan and its failure to defuse the crisis. Ukrainian. The former left the three Asian powers with an unsolvable mess to clean up. The second persuaded New Delhi that the price of American friendship was carrying baggage that might explode in the not-too-distant future.

For two generations, China has cultivated ties with Pakistan, including a 15-year, $62 billion commitment to the China-Pakistan deal Economic Corridor, a flagship investment of the Belt and Road Initiative. The Pakistani army uses Chinese J-10 and J-17 fighters as well as American F-16s. Chinese scientists have aided Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program and the two countries provided aid to North Korea.

But Pakistan could pose more problems than it is worth to Beijing. As FM Shakil reported in February, then-Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Kahn asked China for a $9 billion bailout to avoid a default on loans maturing in June. . Pakistan owes China $18.4 billion, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Pakistan is inextricably backward, politically erratic and unreliable as an economic partner. China could conclude that a diplomatic revolution is in order – a diversion from Pakistan to its southern neighbour, which can boast far greater human capital resources and a strong political system.

Of Pakistan’s 29 prime ministers since its founding in 1947, not one completed a full term. India has its problems, but it has had an unbroken succession of democratically elected governments for 75 years.

At some point, China may decide to cancel its investments in Pakistan and improve its relations with India. And that would upset all strategic calculations.

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