The Orient's Game of Thrones: Why India is Poised to Surpass China as Asia's Dominant Power

The summer of 2017 may well be remembered as the time when Asia became a flashpoint of conflict. President Donald Trump of the United States has engaged in a war of words against North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, which puts Guam, Tokyo, and Seoul (along with North Korea itself) at risk of nuclear incineration. But a potentially more dangerous conflict is simmering several thousand miles southwest, at the junction of tiny Bhutan and the two competing rising nuclear powers of Asia: India and China. The Doklam plateau is a strategic highland in Bhutan--the strategic equivalent of Israel's Golan Heights--overlooking the narrow "chicken neck" corridor connecting India's northeastern provinces to the rest of the South Asian country. China is currently trying to construct a road in this region (known as "Donglang" by the Chinese), much to Bhutan's disapproval. India, wanting to protect the country's narrowest and most vulnerable spots, has intervened at the request of Bhutan, with which it has a defense agreement in place. Both Beijing and New Delhi have amassed troops on opposite sides of the plateau, with China using incendiary rhetoric to force India to back down. Unfortunately for them, India has only strengthened its preparedness and troop levels while still urging a diplomatic solution, gaining it sympathy among world powers like the US. 
India and China have a complicated relationship. China was openly aligned with the Soviet Union during much of the Cold War, while India leaned that way while being officially non-aligned. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, both countries maintained their independence from any power (despite increasing ties with America) and also engaged in a number of military exercises and trade deals with each other that could economically benefit both. And yet both have very different global and regional outlooks, and different goals as well. In 1962, China crushed the Indian military in a border skirmish. Since then, India has been wary of Beijing's ambitions. Over the years, as China got wealthier and developed more, it has also increased its defense spending, claimed much of the South China Sea for itself, built artificial islands (with military outposts) there, and holds border disputes with a number of other countries in the region, such as Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Philippines. China also has increased its military and economic cooperation with India's nemesis, Pakistan, likely to distract India from posing a challenge to China's rising global prominence. 
On the surface, China may look like the next superpower, or at least the dominant regional power, to a number of Asia watchers. It has the world's biggest population, the world's largest military (which is increasingly becoming more powerful and sophisticated), is trying to curb its carbon footprint, and has an enormous educated populace in addition to its rapid development. It's economic clout has wooed countries from Africa and Latin America away from reliance on the United States, which is mired in economic troubles and Near Eastern military debacles. Indeed, if China rose to superpower status, it would far exceed its communist progenitor, the Soviet Union, in almost every capacity. By contrast, India, while rising, still has an enormous issue with poverty, lack of education,  underdevelopment, and increasing environmental woes. 
But just as the tortoise won the race, so, too, I believe, that India will surpass China by the dawn of the 22nd Century. China faces a number of insurmountable problems that prevent its rise to the status of a true superpower. It's population is rapidly aging in a way that puts its economy in serious trouble for the coming decades. The population is not replenishing due to the cruel one-child policy of old, when female babies were often aborted or "discarded", creating a gender imbalance that will slow the rate of repopulation. Even though China has tried to address this through a new two-child policy, women--newly enriched and educated--increasingly have little desire to get married and have children. Its society is dying and becoming sickened from high rates of pollution--an issue that is also increasingly affecting Indians, Americans, and others around the world. It is surrounded by Asian enemies (Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, and India, most prominently) rapidly advancing their own militaries, while also facing increasing suspicion from the United States and Russia. In terms of the economy and business, India has the edge on the number of English speakers, due to its colonial past with Great Britain. And China's economy is slowing down, despite growth that surpasses the West. Beijing's economic imperialism in Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia mirrors what the European powers and the United States did in the 19th and 20th Centuries (and sometimes do to this day). Its actions in Kazakhstan, in some ways, mirror that of the UK's Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in Persia in the early 20th Century, which has sown the seeds of distrust and resentment against poor and working-class Kazakhs that may one day create extremism, instability, and resistance, much as happened in Iran in the middle of the previous century. In many ways, China's past policies have produced situations that hamper its ability to rise. Some analysts have predicted that the view of China as an emerging world power will largely dissipate by 2050, much as Japan and the European Union--once widely seen as candidates for world superpowers--were overtaken by slowing economies and aging populations and later were dismissed. China's military is also riddled with corruptionoutdated Russian equipment, lack of battle experience, poor training (compared to many other countries), and as the years pass, elderly and decreasing manpower.
India, however, has a much more promising future. Its economy is the fastest-growing on Earth. Its only world adversaries besides jihadists seem to be China and Pakistan. Despite its current military, developmental, environmental and economic disadvantage vis a vis China, New Delhi has a lot going for it. Its status as a democracy and colonial heritage means that it will be viewed with less suspicion in Western circles (the powers that currently dominate the globe, for better or worse). Its policy of non-aggression and non-intervention, as well as peaceful resistance to colonialism under Gandhi, has elevated its status in social justice circles and developing countries. Its border disputes with China are cementing its military and political ties to other Asian countries (such as Japan and Vietnam) that are also historic adversaries of Beijing. India is increasing its cooperation with the United States over shared concerns of Chinese naval activity in the Indo-Pacific. And India's population is growing at a rapid pacevery young, and largely English-speaking. And while China's military is larger and stronger now, India is more battle-tested (particularly in areas of high elevation), armed with more sophisticated weapons (thanks to the West and Israel), often times has superior training, and is likely to succeed in any future clash with China due to a growing economy and younger and growing population. Moreover, India's navy has the ability to choke off the Andaman Sea and other parts of the Indian Ocean off from China, denying the East Asian power the ability to import oil from the Middle East or work on joint projects with other countries in the region. And India's navy is more easily deployable to defend (due to smaller distances) throughout the Indian Ocean than China's, which would have to travel long distances in the event of a sea war with New Delhi. India also is better at soft power than China. Its diaspora, particularly in America, is more politically engaged and is increasingly urging the strengthening of ties between the home country and emerging allies that can help it develop--notably the US and Israel. And in terms of its historic role as leader of the Third World, India can be more of an example of how to be a democracy than Western countries, which are often viewed with suspicion or associated with war, racism, or colonialism. In the eyes of many in the developing world, China both emulates Western economic practices as well as the authoritarian practices of the Soviet Union and many Third World countries, without offering an opportunity or presenting an example to advance. 
While there is much talk of a Sino-US clash due to the much-touted Thucydides Trap, it is more likely that China and India will be on a collision course, as they are neighbors and both coveting the same position. However, their very different methods at aiming to sit upon Asia's Iron Throne bring them on divergent paths. The tiger is quite solitary in nature, but will fight fiercely to protect its territory. The dragon takes flight, spreading fire throughout vast swathes of land. These behaviors emulate the foreign policies of the two Asian giants. India is inward looking, never wishing to invade and conquer foreign lands, but will fiercely defend itself and look outwardly for trade or soft power. China takes a more aggressive approach, as seen in its imperialist dreams in the South and East China Seas, economic policies in the Third World, and colonization of Tibet. China's internal policies aimed at efficiency, such as rapid overspending and the one-child policy, have likely doomed it before it could take flight. Its external politics of intimidating its neighbors have driven them into the waiting arms of the United States, Japan, and India, isolating China with only Russia and a few relatively unstable and weak countries as partners/allies. India, by contrast, is increasing friendly relationships around the globe while building its economy and growing its population. Only one country can win the longGame of Thrones in Asia, and that winner is poised to be India.