'From oil to water, both became thirstier for resources, raising fears of a conflict with neighbouring countries, including each other'
Over the past 10 years, the global balance of power tipped towards the east. China and India – which together account for more than a third of the planet's population – finally acquired a fairer share of the world's wealth and, on everything from economic and military power to culture and climate change, they moved to the top table. The G20, which includes these two nations, supplanted the G8 as the world's most influential talking shop.
But there was a long way to go before individual living standards caught up, and the two countries moved on in different ways. China, the biggest communist nation, reinforced its position as the world's hardware workshop. India, the largest democracy, was fast becoming its software centre.
Their influence expanded in other areas. After enormous growth over the past 30 years, China is now poised to overtake Japan as the world's second biggest economy; if current trends continue, it will replace the US at number one around 2035. India's GDP is just a third of China's, but its growth rate of more than 6% a year lifted average incomes over $1,000 for the first time.
From oil to water, both became thirstier for resources, raising fears of a conflict with neighbouring countries, including each other. Already nuclear powers, the two nations have extended their military reach with satellite launches and, in China's case, manned space missions.
Speedy growth also brought rising social inequality, worsening environmental problems and the potentially unsettling shift of hundreds of millions of people from countryside to city. But, on the surface at least, both governments remained stable. For the first time in more than 40 years, an Indian prime minister served a full term and was re-elected. The Chinese Communist party managed its smoothest ever transition of power between different generations of leadership.
China and India will expect their influence to expand in the new decade, but there are turbulent times ahead. Beijing appears the most likely centre of power to replace Washington, but India – with a faster growing population, less reliance on foreign markets and a more representative form of government – may prove better placed to ride the bumps in the global economy.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2016