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India became the world's most populous country, China overtook the West

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What matters to China is consumer and investor confidence, “so it’s not hard to see why Chinese officials are pushing the argument that population decline leads to economic decline,” said Wang, who teaches Chinese politics at Syracuse University. said Dimitar Guerguev, an associate professor at .

Guerguev told NBC News in an email that for China, being the most populous country “means nothing”. What is important is “to be seen as a developing, modern and functional country.”

Similar was the scene on the streets of Beijing.

“Population does not equal national strength,” said Zhang Han, 29, a business student from the eastern province of Shandong. “The US and Japan have smaller populations, but that doesn’t mean they are not strong powers.”

Liu Quan, a 57-year-old retired teacher, said he didn’t care about the population news at all. “We just want peace” among the feuding neighbors, he said. “I believe that both India and China do not want conflict.”

Despite the rising population figures, China is far wealthier than India. Following economic liberalization in the 1970s, its economy has become the second largest in the world after the US, with a GDP nearly seven times that of fifth-ranked India.

Both countries face their own challenges.

Once booming, China’s aging population declined last year for the first time in six decades. This raises serious questions about the ability of this titan – on which the global economy has come to rely – to maintain its economic standing alone.

China once tried to curb its population growth with the now-defunct one-child policy. It is now desperately trying to stem a falling birthrate, which means that – as in many Western countries – a shrinking youth population will struggle to support a growing number of retirees. This partially stabilized the economy of neighboring Japan, despite it already being a high-income country.

In contrast, India has not achieved the same light speed growth in manufacturing and infrastructure. Its population is young but most of them are unemployed or in extreme poverty. Only 2.2% of workers between the ages of 15 and 59 have received formal vocational training, according to official data, in China, 26% of the workforce Classified as “efficient”.

Despite a booming technology sector, the sheer size of the country’s population means it is struggling to create enough jobs to meet demand.

Times of India newspaper described it Reacting to the population news as “a ticking social bomb” in a Leaders column. “Only by facilitating better education and opportunities for our youth can we realize the hope of an ‘Indian Century’,” it said.

A survey conducted by the United Nations in conjunction with this week’s report found that many Indians list economic issues as their top concern when thinking about population change, followed by the environment, health and human rights. There are also concerns.

Those findings suggest that “population concerns have spread to large sections of the general public,” even though the numbers should be seen as a sign of development rather than a cause for concern, according to the United Nations Population Fund’s representative for India. Andrea Wojnar said in testimony.

If China is worried about giving up the top spot, India doesn’t seem entirely thrilled to claim it.

Jess Zhang reported from Beijing and Alex Smith from London.

Eric Bakulinao, associated Press And reuters Contribution,