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China Overtakes Japan As World's Second-Biggest Economy

  • RFE/RL

Chinese shipping containers stacked as high as the eye can see, more evidence of the country's economic clout.

Chinese shipping containers stacked as high as the eye can see, more evidence of the country's economic clout.

China has overtaken Japan as the world's second-biggest economy, putting it on course to surpass the United States within the next 15 years.

Data released February 14 put China's overall gross domestic product (GDP) for 2010 at $5.879 trillion. That compared to $5.474 trillion for Japan.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano pointed out, however, that Japan has just one-tenth the population of China. He told reporters today, "Although we have been overtaken in terms of the country's GDP ... Japan is still around 10 times higher than China in terms of per capita GDP. We have to make use of our affluence as well as the development of neighboring countries to help pass on our wealth to the next generation."

Japan 'No. 2' For 40 Years

Japan has held the No. 2 position behind the United States for more than 40 years thanks to its postwar boom.

But in the 1990s its property bubble burst -- just as China's economy was well on the way to opening up -- ushering in a period of stagnation that continues until today.

Japanese government efforts to lower interest rates and inject money into the economy have had little positive effect.

Last week, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that Japan's debts and fiscal deficit were "not sustainable" and needed to be urgently addressed. With a dwindling and graying population, according to demographers, that will be no easy task.

China's economy, meanwhile, continues its meteoric rise. For the past 20 years, China's average annual GDP growth has been above 9 percent and is expected to top 10 percent for 2010.

To be sure, inflation, rising social tensions between rich and poor, and an overreliance on exports all pose challenges for Beijing's rulers.

But if current trends continue, economists expect the country to become the world's largest economy, overtaking the United States in total GDP, by around 2025.

written by Jeremy Bransten, with contributions from agency reports
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