By YP Rajesh
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India is poised to overtake China as the world’s most populous nation, with almost 3 million more people than its neighbour by the middle of this year, data released on Wednesday by the United Nations showed.
India’s population by mid-year is estimated at 1.4286 billion, against 1.4257 billion for China – 2.9 million fewer – in the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) “State of World Population Report” for this year.
The United States is a distant third, with an estimated population of 340 million as of the end of June, the data showed in a report that reflects information available until February.
GRAPHIC: Top 10 most populated countries by mid-2023 – https://www.reuters.com/graphics/ASIA-POPULATION/znvnbjrwzvl/chart.png
Population experts using previous data from the UN have projected India’s population would surpass China’s this month, but the global body’s latest report did not specify a date.
UN population officials have said it was not possible to pinpoint a date because of uncertainty about the data from India and China, as India’s last census was held in 2011 and the next, due in 2021, was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although both nations will account for more than a third of the estimated global population of 8.045 billion, population growth in both has been slowing, albeit much faster in China than India.
Last year, China’s population fell for the first time in six decades, a historic turn expected to usher in a long period of decline in citizen numbers, with profound implications for its economy and the world.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said population dividends did not only depend on quantity but also on quality.
“Population is important but talents are also important…China has taken active measures to respond to population aging,” Wang told reporters on Wednesday.
“As Premier Li Qiang pointed out, our population dividend has not disappeared. Our talent dividend is booming, and the impetus for development is strong,” she said.
There was no official reaction from India to the data, with a federal minister saying it was not discussed at a cabinet meeting held on Wednesday.
India’s annual population growth has averaged 1.2% since 2011, down from 1.7% in the previous decade, government data shows.
A public survey by UNFPA for the 2023 report found the most commonly held opinion in India, as well as in Brazil, Egypt and Nigeria, was that the population in each country “was too large and fertility rates were too high”, the report said.
“The Indian survey findings suggest that population anxieties have seeped into large portions of the general public,” Andrea Wojnar, the agency’s India representative, said in a statement.
“Yet population numbers should not trigger anxiety or create alarm. Instead, they should be seen as a symbol of progress, development, and aspirations if individual rights and choices are being upheld.”
India had done many things right in tackling population growth, said Poonam Muttreja, an official of the voluntary group Population Foundation of India.
“At the same time, we need to make sure that girls and women are not pushed into early marriages and pregnancies, which limit their aspirations,” she said in a statement.
(Reporting by YP Rajesh, additional reporting by Krishn Kaushik in NEW DELHI and Andrew Hayley in BEIJING; Editing by Aurora Ellis, Clarence Fernandez and Alex Richardson)