Letters to the Editor

See Lessons in China's Rise

Editor's note: The following editorial appeared Thursday in the Kansas City Star.

In the 1980s, when pundits mulled the supposed economic threat from Japan, few would have dreamed that Japan's sun would set so soon.

In the 1990s, Japan wallowed. In the second quarter of this year it was surpassed by China as the world's No. 2 economy.

For the quarter, Japan tallied a gross domestic product of $1.2 trillion. China came in at $1.3 trillion, just less than a third the size of the U.S. economy. Still, its performance marks what is perhaps the greatest economic transformation in human history: 300 million Chinese lifted out of poverty in the space of some 30 years. What was once a dirt-poor nation had become the world's largest exporter and the biggest car market.

In 1978, China crawled out of the chaos of the Cultural Revolution and began putting market economics to work, first in agriculture and then in other industries. In the 1990s, the country grew at the breakneck pace of 10 percent or so a year.

Meanwhile, Japan's stock market and property bubble had popped and the country entered its "lost decade."

Over those years, China's government sector shrank as a proportion of the economy. Japan's ballooned. There is an obvious lesson here for our policymakers.

China's rise has been spectacular, but its future is hardly assured. Its banking and finance system is underdeveloped, corruption is a continuing problem, its population is aging, it remains a one-party authoritarian state, and in recent years it has begun shielding selected industries from competition -- a prescription for stagnation, at least in those sectors.

But at this moment, China's future seems boundless and bright, just as Japan's did in the 1980s -- a reminder that no nation's rise or continued predominance is ordained.