India may already have overtaken China as the world’s most populous nation says Chinese academician
Wisconsin,May24:A Chinese academician claims that India may already have overtaken China as the world’s most populous nation have sparked consternation among demographers.
The claims were made on Monday by Yi Fuxian, a University of Wisconsin-Madison academic who has spent years campaigning against Beijing ’s draconian family-planning laws, and picked up by newspapers in both China and India.
Speaking at a conference in Beijing, Yi said he was convinced that over the last 26 years Chinese statisticians had overestimated the country’s population by about 90 million, partly by inflating rates of fertility. As a result, China’s population at the end of last year would have been 1.29 billion.
Yi argued that his findings showed that Beijing – which ditched its notorious one-child policy for a two-child policy in 2015 – should immediately scrap all such controls in order to soften the blow of a looming ageing crisis.
He said he hoped his controversial findings would prompt a debate over China’s demographic timebomb which he called the country’s “number one problem”.
Instead, however, they have stirred up a storm with Chinese and Indian scholars expressing bewilderment and scepticism at his claims.
Wang Feng, a leading demographer from the University of California, Irvine, dismissed Yi’s claims as sensational, extremely sloppy and based on highly politicised back-of-the-envelope calculations.
“He’s a person with a political agenda and [who has been] a consistent critic of the Chinese government’s policy … [so] his numbers should not be taken at face value.”
“I don’t disagree with his general criticisms [of China’s birth control policy],” Wang added. “But … we have to speak from facts or we just speak from conjecture … I think he just wants to make a point to say that fertility is very low in China, the government has inflated the birth numbers, and [therefore] China should have no birth control policy.”
Asked what he thought China’s true population was, Wang said: “I would go with the government number.”
Indian demographers also scotched the suggestion their country had already overtaken China. “China is still the most populated, but India will overtake them by 2025,” said Laushram Ladu Singh, a population researcher at Mumbai’s International Institute for Population Sciences.
India’s population, currently around 1.3 billion, has quadrupled since the country became independent in 1947 but the speed of growth – still very high at around 17.7% in the decade to 2011 – is slowing significantly. The World Health Organisation projects India’s population will reach 1.7bn by 2050 and begin to decline.
In southern states such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where quality of life is higher, population growth has already stabilised. The large increases are being driven by eight mostly northern states, including Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand, that are “lagging in the development and social sectors”, said Singh.
“In many states fertility has come down to the replacement level, by which we mean one woman replacing one daughter on average,” Singh said. “But in these eight big states, which make up 40% of the population, fertility is still high, though coming down.”
Wang said Chinese statisticians might have overstated the size of China’s population but would not have been so “simple and foolish” to do so by 90 million people. “That is two Spains. It’s not possible to be off by that much. That’s like one of China’s largest provinces not being there.”
If current trends continued, Wang said it was likely, possibly over the next five years, that China’s population would peak at about 1.4 billion and then start to fall. India’s population, depending on its growth rate, might overtake China’s within the next decade. “It could be a few years earlier, it could be a few years later … But the bottom line is China has not yet been passed by India.”
Wang said he expected some Chinese nationalists to lament the day China was passed by India. But ultimately it was irrelevant if one country had slightly more people than the other. “Whether it is number two or number one or number three, it doesn’t matter … Any serious politician or serious person would not think this matters.
“It doesn’t change anyone’s life except people who like China to be number one. I don’t care. Most people should not care.”