India is expected to be the world’s most populous country by the end of this month, eclipsing an aging China, according to the United Nations.
The milestone comes at a time India is trying to promote itself as a rising international player as the host of this year’s G20 summit, and raises questions about whether it can repeat the economic success that has made China central to the world’s economy and a leading global power.
India is also becoming a more appealing destination for multinational companies seeking to reduce their reliance on China.
By the end of April, the country’s population is expected to reach 1.425 billion, meaning it will match and then exceed mainland China’s, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs said in a statement.
The forecast is based on the UN’s latest estimates of the global population, though demographers say the limits of the population data make it impossible to calculate an exact date of when India’s population will pass China’s.
Last week, another UN report projected that India would have 2.9 million people more than China by mid-year – based on snapshots of the populations at the beginning of the year and the middle of the year.
The Indian government, which has not done a census since 2011, has not officially commented on the estimates.
John Wilmoth, director of the UN’s population division, said the timing of when India surpasses China in population will likely be revised once India conducts its next census.
“The precise timing of this crossover isn’t known, and it will never be known,” Mr Wilmoth said. “There is uncertainty in the data.”
The US and its allies are increasingly viewing India, the world’s largest democracy, as a counterweight to China, but their interests do not always align.
Unlike much of the West, India has refrained from condemning its Cold War ally Russia over the war in Ukraine, instead adopting a neutral stance even as India’s purchases of Russia’s crude have surged.
China’s population peaked in 2022 and has since begun to decline.
The UN said that by the close of the century, its population could drop below one billion.
While China’s elderly population is swelling, its birth rate is still plunging, from 1.7 babies per woman in 2017 to 1.2 in 2022, UN data shows.
Contrarily, India has the world’s largest young population as well as a higher fertility rate, and has seen a consistent decrease in infant mortality.
The country’s fertility rate has been steadily falling, from over five births per woman in the 1960s, to two in 2022, with its population expected to stop growing and stabilise by around 2064.