by Xinhua writer Zhang Zhengfu
BEIJING, Dec. 26 (Xinhua) -- China revised its 2008 gross domestic product (GDP) to 4.52 trillion U.S. dollars at the average exchange rate of 2008, narrowing the gap with Japan, the world's second largest economy with a GDP of 4.9 trillion U.S. dollars for the same year.
The revision resulted from China's second economic census which raised the country's 2008 economic growth rate to 9.6 percent from9 percent.
Given an estimate of more than 8 percent growth rate for China in 2009, accompanied by Japan's shrinking economy amid the global economic downturn, the country, currently the world's third largest economy, was poised to overtake Japan as the second largest.
"It is only a matter of time before China's total economic volume surpass that of Japan given China's robust growth," said Xu Lianzhong, a researcher with the National Development and Reform Commission.
However, Xu said the new figures coupled with the prospect of catching up with Japan in terms of total economic volume next year should serve as no cause for self-complacency.
"It is not so important to compare the total GDP with that of the Japan or other developed nations," said Zuo Xiaolei, chief economist with the Galaxy Securities.
"What matters more is the per capita figure, and in the case of China, the total figure has to be divided by 1.3 billion," said Xu.
In 2008, China's per capita GDP was 3,200 U.S. dollars, less than a third of the world's average or a tenth of Japan's 38,000 U.S. dollars, according to the World Bank's estimates.
Eclipsing Japan in total economic volume wouldn't change the fact of China being a developing country, not least because China lagged far behind the developed nations in many areas, said Zuo
"There are still wide gaps between China and the developed countries in per capita GDP, the quality of economic development, and science and technological levels," said Xu.
Zuo said China should place more emphasis on lifting the quality of economic development and solving structural problems in the economy.
These cool-headed interpretations were echoed by ordinary people in Beijing.
Zhang Ning, a civil servant at the Beijing Municipal Government, said, "the total amount may be pleasing to the ear, and I feel proud of China becoming more economically advanced, but you had to divide that by a huge denominator."
"We should not be misled by the absolute figures and the ranking. China still has a lot of work to do in improving the people's living standards and building a better social security system," said Gao Shan, a college student in China's Foreign Affairs University in Beijing.
China currently has 150 million people living in poverty and is faced with daunting challenges in poverty alleviation, according to the National Development and Reform Commission.
A report released by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Thursday ranked China the 7th in the world in overall strength. The relatively low ranking came as no surprise to most Chinese people.
"China has a long way to go before its education, science and technology could match with developed countries," said a netizen by the name Guxin at the online forum of www.sina.com.cn, a leading Chinese portal website.
China was also burdened with the daunting task of cutting greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GDP by 40 to 45 percent by 2020 from the 2005 level, and the marginal cost was set to rise in the future, said Zou Ji, a professor with Renmin University of China.