With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, the World has become unipolar, with USA as the predominant power. Russia and France, along with rising powers such as China, have resisted this reality by pushing the concept of a multi polar world. Henry Kissenger had earlier written about the four powers, USA, EU, China and Russia and maybe a fifth India. Till about 9 months ago the US establishment was confident that the USA would remain the predominant world power and that China did not pose a serious threat to it during most of the 21st century. There was also a feeling that India could become a swing state in terms of the power balance in Asia in the second half of the century and therefore an improvement of India-US relations was desirable.
In a recent paper (ICRIER WP #160, March 2005) I have projected that within 25 years, China will become strong enough to challenge US power in Asia and India will become the third most powerful country in the World. This process will continue in the next 25 years so that by the middle of the century the World will become Tripolar. The USA, China and India will be the three great powers during most of the 21st century. A recognition of this fact will have a profound effect on the foreign and security policies of USA, India, EU and Japan. There is an important caveat: The projections for India depend on continuing reform of economic policy as well as reform of government institutions and political systems. Similarly we assume that single party (Chinese Communist Party) rule will remain in China and it will continue to introduce market reforms to correct the weakness of socialist policies. Though the European Union (EU) could be the fourth power if Germany, UK, France and Italy surrender their individual power to a EU “virtual” State, this appears unlikely (at present).
Though the size of a Nation’s economy has always been an important basis of its global power this will be more so in the 21st century. The size of a nation’s economy (GDP at ppp) is the multiple of its population and Per capita GDP (average income). If we compare each country’s share in World population and in World GDP we find four countries with the greatest imbalance. The USA and Japan’s share of world GDP is more than their respective shares of population by 16.5% & 5%, while China and India’s share of World GDP is less than their share of population by 11% and 9% respectively. Germany, France, UK, Italy also have significant positive and Indonesia a negative imbalance (there is no imbalance for Russia and Brazil). These imbalances will get reduced or eliminated during this century of globalization (free flow of technology). The reason for this are policy reform and catch-up growth by the three laggards, India and Indonesia, which are low income countries and China which is a lower middle income country: Since 1980, China, India and Indonesia have ranked 1st , 9th and 11th in terms of the average rate of growth of per capita GDP.
Over the next two decades, China and India will remain among the 5 fastest growing economies in the world and will therefore continue to close the per capita income gap with the USA. According to our mean scenario, in 2050, China and India’s per capita GDP ppp is projected to become 57% and 36% respectively of that of the USA. As China’s and India’s population would be 3.4 and 3.75 times that of the USA (respectively), their GDP at purchasing power parity will become about 1.9 and 1.3 times that of the USA in 2050. In contrast the GDP of the fourth largest country, Japan would be 1/5th that of the USA.
Though the size of the economy forms the basis of Global Power it may not be an adequate measure of power given that even in a Globalized world, each country has to develop its own strategic technology. We therefore measure the potential power of a country through a Power Potential Index (PPI) that gives additional weight to technological capabilities and national resources. The index shows that by 2050 China’s power is likely to be about 40% higher than that of the USA. China will therefore be able to challenge US power in Asia within 20 years, when its PPI will be about 70% of the USA. We also find that India’s potential power will be about 35% of USA in 2025 and 90% in 2050. If our projections come true, India will become a global power during the second quarter of this century and the World will become tripolar.
History shows that the risk of war rises when a new great power (now China) emerges to challenge an existing one (USA). In Asia, these risks are heightened by the imbalance between China and India. India’s economy will reach a low of 40% of China’s in the middle of the next decade, before starting to close the gap. However, even in 2050 the Indian economy is projected to be only 70% of China’s economy. Part of the reason for this gap is that the rich countries have denied India for 30 years the technology that they have allowed China to access. It is in the interest of the USA, EU, Japan and Russia to ensure that the technological and economic gap between India and China is closed as quickly as possible. They must lift the controls and restrictions on transfer of Dual use, nuclear and space technology to India, imposed after our first atomic test in 1974. The Bush administration seems to have recognized this imperative, as reflected in the statements of Secretary of State Condalezza Rice on her visit to India in March and the subsequent backgrounders by US spokesmen in Washington. India must use this opportunity to develop an ‘Indo-US partnership for peace’ that is mutually/equally beneficial to both. At the same time efforts to develop closer technological collaboration with Russia, Japan, France, UK and other countries must continue. We need to jettison the victim mindset engendered under the East India Company/British Raj and learn to act like a big power.
Normalization of relations between India and China will be critical to peace in the Tripolar World. We must enhance our economic ties through removal of bilateral impediments and development of inclusive structures such as an Asian Oil community and an (East) Asian Economic Community.