Make us your home page
Instagram

China uncomfortable with No. 2 world economic rank

BEIJING — Who me, rich and powerful? China's official reaction this week to its latest milestone — surpassing Japan to become the world's second-largest economy — has been more modest than boastful.

Rather than flaunting its newfound status, China, the world's most populous nation but still roughly the 100th in per capita income, is going through contortions to show that it really isn't that successful at all.

Since Monday, when Japan released economic data showing its gross domestic product for the second quarter had slipped behind China's, Beijing has been trumpeting its shortcomings. In news conferences, on talk shows and in editorial pages, commentators have hastened to pooh-pooh the statistics, saying they are wrong, misleading or meaningless. They compare China not to Japan or the United States, but to Albania — both have annual per capita income of about $3,600.

This has not been a time for the Communist Party to boast about the fact that China has chalked up annual growth rates averaging 9 percent for the past two decades.

"There is little celebration in this land," sniffed the English-language China Daily in an editorial Thursday. "We have no time to be intoxicated by big numbers."

At a briefing Tuesday in Beijing, foreign ministry official Zhu Honghai gave a lengthy enumeration of China's weaknesses: rural poverty, social disparities, low levels of investment in education, medical care, social security.

On the talk show Today Observed on CCTV, economists chatted about why Chinese shouldn't be happy about overtaking Japan, while one newspaper headline accused the foreign press of "trying to flatter China to death."

A strange turn of phrase in a country where the foreign news media is often accused of "China bashing."

What, beyond truthfulness, is behind all the self-deprecation?

"China has played the underdog and victim for a long time, and they're used to that role," suggested Patrick Chovanec, an associate professor at Tsinghua University's School of Economics and Management in Beijing. "There is an adolescent quality of not being comfortable with what you're becoming."

By insisting that it is still a "poor, developing nation" — a phrase often repeated by Beijing — China is also able to beg off demands in negotiations over issues ranging from climate change to trade balance.

To some extent, China's expressions of humility might be a cultural reflex.

"As Chinese, we do things differently from the West. We are used to keeping a low profile and not bragging about any single achievement," said Zhang Yansheng, an economist at the National Development and Reform Commission.

China uncomfortable with No. 2 world economic rank 08/19/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 19, 2010 9:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rick Scott appoints 'my friend,' Jimmy Patronis, as Florida CFO

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Monday appointed a long-time friend and political supporter, Jimmy Patronis, to replace Jeff Atwater as Florida's next chief financial officer, making him one of three members of the Cabinet that sets state policy on a wide range of issues. He'll take over Friday.

    Rick Scott appoints Jimmy Patronis (background) as CFO. [STEVE BOUSQUET | Tampa Bay Times]
  2. Local gas prices plummet as Fourth of July holiday travel approaches

    Tourism

    TAMPA — Local gas prices are enjoying an unseasonal dip around the $2 mark just in time for the hectic Fourth of July holiday travel weekend.

    The price of regular unleaded gasoline has dropped to $1.99 at a Rally station on Pasadena Ave. South and Gulfport Boulevard South, South Pasadena.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  3. Air bag recalls, lawsuits lead Takata to file for bankruptcy

    Autos

    Shattered by recall costs and lawsuits, Japanese air bag maker Takata Corp. filed Monday for bankruptcy protection in Tokyo and the U.S., saying it was the only way it could keep on supplying replacements for faulty air bag inflators linked to the deaths of at least 16 people.

    Japanese air bag maker Takata Corp. CEO Shigehisa Takada bows during a press conference in Tokyo on Monday. Takata has filed for bankruptcy protection in Tokyo and the U.S., overwhelmed by lawsuits and recall costs related to its production of defective air bag inflators.
[(AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi]
  4. Airbag maker Takata bankruptcy filing expected in Japan, U.S.

    Corporate

    DETROIT — Japanese airbag maker Takata Corp. has filed for bankruptcy protection in Tokyo and the U.S., overwhelmed by lawsuits and recall costs related to its production of faulty air bag inflators.

  5. Federal agencies demand records from SeaWorld theme park

    Tourism

    ORLANDO — Two federal agencies are reportedly demanding financial records from SeaWorld.

    Killer whales Ikaika and Corky participate in behaviors commonly done in the wild during SeaWorld's Killer Whale educational presentation in this photo from Jan. 9. SeaWorld has been subpoenaed by two federal agencies for comments that executives and the company made in August 2014 about the impact from the "Blackfish" documentary. 
[Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS]