Image Credit: songquan deng

Comparing the US and China

As China’s rise continues, it has been alternatively cast as a peer, a competitor and rival, or as a potential antagonist of the United States. But to what extent is China fully comparable to the United States yet? Specifically, in what respect is China 2% greater than the United States?

A. GDP
B. Life expectancy
C. Per capita GDP
D. Land area

A. GDP … is not correct.

At market prices, China’s GDP (the size of its economy) is still only about 61.7% the size of the U.S. economy, according to International Monetary Fund estimates in 2017.

China is the second-largest economy in the world in nominal terms (i.e., without adjustment for local purchasing power). China’s GDP is 144% larger than that of third-ranked Japan.

China’s economy is also more than three times greater than that of Germany, and four and a half times larger than the economies of France or the United Kingdom.

China certainly seems destined for economic pre-eminence, if current trends continue. This would be a return to its previous path and position in the global economy. Back in 1820, two centuries ago, the largest productive economies in the world were China and India, which together accounted for half of the aggregate value of the global economy.

B. Life expectancy … is not correct.

Life expectancy at birth in the United States in 2015 was 79.24 years, according to the UN Population Division. In China, it was 76.09 years. Thus, U.S. lifespan projections currently remain about 4% longer than Chinese lifespan projections for babies born the same year.

Impressively for China, that is a much smaller gap than 65 years earlier. Back in 1950, the same life expectancy for a baby born in China was just 42.97 years. The corresponding number in the United States was 68.21 years – 25% greater. Americans gained more than 10 years in life expectancy by 2015, while Chinese gained about 33 years.

The world average for life expectancy at birth in 2015 was 71.43 years, which remains below China’s level, as it has been since 1968.

C. Per capita GDP … is not correct.

At less than 27%, Chinese per capita GDP (adjusted for local purchasing power) remains at a rather low level when compared to U.S. per capita GDP.

The United States itself currently ranks ninth in the world among high-income countries, with a per capita GDP of $57,467 per year.

China’s GDP per person is $15,535 per year, according to the World Bank’s estimates for 2016.

GDP per capita is simply an equal distribution of the total economy’s value over the size of the population of the entire country. It does not necessarily reflect the real median income.

China’s GDP per capita per month would be about $1,300. In Shanghai, the city with the highest wage level, the median monthly wage is $1,135 – slightly below what the GDP per capita would suggest. The typical wage in Shanghai is about equal to that of Hungary and is catching up to other Central European countries like Poland or Czech Republic.

However, median wages even in Chinese cities like Beijing or Shenzhen remain below the level of the European Union’s Baltic states and are more comparable to wages in EU Balkan countries like Croatia. Much of rural China remains much poorer.

D. Land area … is correct.

Land area is one factor neither the United States nor China can easily grow further to compete with each other. This is one of the few areas in which China has the edge in size over the United States – but just barely.

China has a land area of 9.3 million square kilometers (3.6 million square miles), which is 2.2% larger than the U.S. land area of 9.1 million square kilometers (3.5 million square miles).

That Chinese land area does not include several large disputed territories which China still claims.

The island of Taiwan, for example, remains the territory of the “Republic of China” that lost the Chinese Civil War in 1950. The ROC government fled to the island, leaving the rival “People’s Republic of China” in control of the mainland and several other islands. If re-integrated with the rest of China, it would add 32,260 sq km.

China also disputes two large territories with India. These are Aksai Chin, near Kashmir, with an area of 37,244 sq km, as well as Arunachal Pradesh (“South Tibet”), with 90,000 sq km.

All together, if these were fully re-united with China, the country would have a land area nearly 4% larger than that of the United States.

Beyond land, the United States does, however, have a larger total area than China due to extensive coastal waters off of U.S. states and island territories.

China has also undertaken a controversial project of building out uninhabited islands that it claims in the South China Sea. This could help China catch up a bit to the United States in maritime area – but at the risk of ecological and political destabilization in the region.

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