What's more, when researchers at Georgia Tech recently graded the high-tech competitiveness of 33 countries on a 100-point scale from 1996 to 2007, China skyrocketed to the top ranking while the U.S. fell from its 1999 peak. If this trend continues, China could soon replace the U.S. as the main engine of the world's economy, the study suggests.
Small wonder pundits have long said the 21st century belongs to China. And perhaps there's no better way of getting a sense the country's size and ambitions than by looking at the numbers. Viewed through this lens, you see that China already leads the world in a host of critical categories.
China has $1.53 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, about $500 billion more than Japan, the next largest holder. It produces more clothing, cement, gold and steel than any other country. In 2006, it had 2.4 million university graduates, more than the U.S., Japan and France combined. By 2011, China is expected to become the world's largest energy consumer, a title now held by the U.S.
According to government statistics, China manufactured 8.8 million autos in 2007, a 22% increase from the previous year. That's still far behind the U.S., but one analyst estimates China could catch the U.S. in auto production by 2012.
The industrial boom has put China on pace to surpass the U.S. in energy consumption shortly after 2010, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency. In addition, a 2007 report by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency found that China is now the world's leading producer of harmful carbon dioxide emissions.
Need more examples of China's galloping growth? According to official statistics from the Chinese government, last year economic growth increased by 11.4%, China's state-owned companies posted a 32% rise in profits and foreign direct investment in China amounted to $11.2 billion--a 110% increase from the previous year.
The Chinese would probably welcome a mild slowdown. Since 2004, China has tried with little success to rebalance its economy by promoting more consumption at home and less investment and export-led growth. The best way for China to adjust, experts say: Spend more, save less.
Despite occasional spats over trade and the exchange rate between the dollar and the yuan, Washington and Beijing are working together to help China manage its growth and to become a more integrated member of the world economy. In 2006, the U.S. and China began their "strategic economic dialogue," which has become the centerpiece of U.S.-Sino relations. On the U.S. side, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson--who traveled to China frequently when he was chairman of Goldman Sachs (nyse: GS - news - people )--has led the effort.
"The Chinese have to set up social and political institutions that could mediate competing interests," says Woo. "Unless they can do that, the economic growth might not be sustainable."
No. 1: China
No. 2: U.S.
If China retains its competitive edge in hi-tech exports, it could soon replace the U.S. as the main driver of the global economy, says a 2008 report by Georgia Tech researchers. The study graded 33 nations' technological competitiveness on a 100-point scale. China reached the top position for the first time in 2007.
No. 1: China
No. 2: U.S.
A 2007 study by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency found that China's carbon dioxide emissions surpassed those of the U.S. by 8% in 2006. The main reasons: increases in cement production and coal consumption. According to the World Bank, 20 of the world's 30 most polluted cities are in China.
No. 1: China
No. 2: Japan
China's trade surplus grew by a record 48% in 2007, according to the country's central bank. As a result the country has the largest store of foreign exchange reserves in the world, about $1.53 trillion as of December. (Japan's are just shy of $1 trillion. About $200 billion of this is invested in a sovereign wealth fund, the China Investment Corp.)
No. 1: U.S.
No. 2: China
The International Energy Agency predicts that China could surpass the U.S. as the world's largest consumer of energy soon after 2010. China increasingly relies on coal and imported oil to feed its growing energy appetite. One bright spot: The government aims to obtain 15% of its energy from renewable fuel sources by 2020.
No. 1: China (PetroChina)
No. 2: U.S. (ExxonMobil)
PetroChina's market capitalization soared past $1 trillion when it debuted on the Shanghai Stock Exchange in 2007. That made it twice as valuable as the world's second-largest company, U.S.-based ExxonMobil. However, PetroChina trades at a much lower valuation on other stock exchanges, and its profits are a fraction of Exxon's. Consulting firm PFC Energy recently estimated PetroChina's market cap to be $723 billion.
No. 1: China
No. 2: South Africa
In 2007, China surpassed both South Africa and the U.S. as the world's largest producer of gold, according to GFMS, a London-based precious metals consulting firm. Low production costs and record gold prices are contributing to a Chinese boom in bullion. The government says that from 2006 to 2010, it plans to increase its holding of gold by 600%.
No. 1: Germany
No. 2: China
According to the World Trade Organization, China began to overtake the U.S. as the world's second-largest merchandise exporter in the second half of 2006, even though the U.S. held the No. 2 spot overall that year. China produces more textiles and clothing than any other country in the world. Official statistics aren't in yet, but China undoubtedly passed the U.S. in merchandise exports throughout 2007, which would bump the U.S. to the No. 3 spot.
According to the World Bank's latest figures, China saved 50% of its national income in 2007, by far the highest rate among the world's major developing or industrialized countries. That's a problem because it shows that economic growth is lopsided--too heavy on exports and investment, not enough consumption. China's citizens save about 25% of their net pay (in the U.S., this rate is less than 1%), but Beijing wants to see more spending, less saving.