In 2040, the Chinese economy will reach $123 trillion, or nearly three times the economic output of the entire globe in 2000. China's per capita income will hit $85,000, more than double the forecast for the European Union, and also much higher than that of India and Japan. In other words, the average Chinese megacity dweller will be living twice as well as the average Frenchman when China goes from a poor country in 2000 to a superrich country in 2040. Although it will not have overtaken the United States in per capita wealth, according to my forecasts, China's share of global GDP -- 40 percent -- will dwarf that of the United States (14 percent) and the European Union (5 percent) 30 years from now. This is what economic hegemony will look like.
Most accounts of China's economic ascent offer little but vague or threatening generalities, and they usually grossly underestimate the extent of the rise -- and how fast it's coming. (For instance, a recent study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace predicts that by 2050, China'seconomy will be just 20 percent larger than that of the United States.) Such accounts fail to fully credit the forces at work behind China's recent successor understand how those trends will shape the future. Even China's own economic data in some ways actually underestimate economic outputs.
It's the same story with the relative decline of a Europe plagued by falling fertility as its era of global economic clout finally ends. Here, too, the trajectory will be more sudden and stark than most reporting suggests. Europe's low birthrate and its muted consumerism mean its contribution to global GDP will tumble to a quarter of its current share within 30 years. At that point, the economy of the 15 earliest EU countries combined will be an eighth the size of China's.
Think Again: Asia's Rise
Don't believe the hype about the decline of America and the dawn of a new Asian age. By Minxin Pei
This is what the future will look like in a generation. It's coming sooner than we think.
What, precisely, does China have going so right for it?
The first essential factor that is often overlooked: the enormous investment China is making in education. More educated workers are much more productive workers. (As I have reported elsewhere, U.S. data indicate that college-educated workers are three times as productive, and a high school graduate is 1.8 times as productive, as a worker with less than a ninth-grade education.) In China, high school and college enrollments are rising steeply due to significant state investment. In 1998, then-President Jiang Zemin called for a massive increase in enrollment in higher education. At the time, just 3.4 million students were enrolled in China's colleges and universities. The response was swift: Over the next four years, enrollment in higher education increased 165 percent, and the number of Chinese studying abroad rose 152 percent. Between 2000 and 2004, university enrollment continued to rise steeply, by about 50 percent. I forecast that China will be able to increase its high school enrollment rate to the neighborhood of 100 percent and the college rate to about 50 percent over the next generation, which would by itself add more than 6 percentage points to the country's annual economic growth rate. These targets for higher education are not out of reach. It should be remembered that several Western European countries saw college enrollment rates climb from about 25 to 50 percent in just the last two decades of the 20th century.