China, home to almost a fifth of the world’s population, is a country of superlatives. Forty years of economic growth, at an average of nearly 10% a year, has transformed the country into a global leader in technology and manufacturing.
Its economy is now second only in size to the United States – larger if trade is taken into account – and it is home to six of the world’s megacities.
Despite its trade dispute with the US, China enjoyed first-quarter growth of 6.4% this year, more than double the UN’s forecast for the rest of the world.
Life expectancy has risen to 75 for men and 78 for women, according to the World Health Organisation.
But despite all this, there are big challenges – particularly around greenhouse gas emissions, as huge economic growth has rapidly made China the world’s biggest producer of CO2.
Ahead of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Dalian, in July, here are 10 facts to help you understand China today.
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1. It has landed a space rover on the far side of the Moon
The unmanned Chang’e-4 probe touched down in a large crater near the Moon’s South Pole in January to analyse the geology of an unexplored region. China’s space agency called the landing “an important stride toward China being a strong country in space exploration”.
The mission carried experiments from the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Saudi Arabia. Missions to Mars and Jupiter, a manned Moon landing and a permanent Chinese space station are also planned.
2. It’s a world leader in Artificial Intelligence
Chinese businesses filed 473 of the 608 Artificial Intelligence patents lodged with the World Intellectual Property Organisation last year and a third of all blockchain patents. The Chinese government is reportedly investing billions to support AI developers, including creating a $2 billion AI development park in Beijing.
3. It’s home to a third of the world’s corporate unicorns
In 2018, China had a total of 186 unicorn start-ups – companies worth more than $1 billion – according to the Hurun List. And it fostered 97 new unicorns, or one every 3.8 days, according to the South China Morning Post, which is owned by unicorn company Alibaba.
China is building a giant tech hub comprising 11 cities to rival Silicon Valley. The Pearl River Delta, home to nearly 70 million people, will be united into a giant megalopolis to be known as the Greater Bay Area.
China’s Greater Bay Area China’s Greater Bay Area Image: World Economic Forum
4. China is a world leader in renewable energy – but also in emissions
The image of smoggy Chinese cities belies the reality that, last year, China built more solar and wind electricity generating capacity than any other nation. Three of the world’s five largest floating solar plants are in China.
New coal-fired power stations are still coming on stream, but a major programme to close down older plants is under way. As national wealth grows, demand for electricity is booming. The International Energy Agency says the average Chinese household will use twice as much electricity by 2040 than it does today.
China is also the world’s biggest energy-related carbon dioxide emitter.
This figure increased from 2017-2018 by 2.5%. But, given its massive population, the per capita picture is a bit rosier.
5. One third of the world’s new vegetation is being planted in China
China accounts for a quarter of the human-caused greening observed since 2000 – despite containing only 6.3% of the world’s landmass. Two-fifths comes from expanding its forests.
The Shandong Ecological Afforestation Project alone planted trees on 67,000 hectares of barren mountainous slopes and saline coast over five years, increasing forest cover and improving biodiversity.
Last year, China created three sustainable development zones based on United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals in Shenzhen, Guilin and Taiyuan.
6. GDP growth is slowing, but still high
For years China has been associated with rapid GDP growth. Since the late 1970s, it’s averaged nearly 10% a year and 850 million people have been lifted out of poverty.
But, since the early part of the decade, it’s slowed. By global standards, it’s still high, however – 6.3% in the latest IMF World Economic Outlook compared to a global average of 3.3%.
The IMF said rapid growth had negative impacts: “high inequality (especially between rural and urban areas), challenges to environmental sustainability, and external imbalances. China also faces demographic pressures related to an aging population and the internal labor migration.”
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7. China accounts for more than half of global electric car sales
Chinese drivers bought 1.1 million new electric cars last year. At the recent Shanghai Motor Show, Chinese car makers unveiled 10 new electric car models for 2019.
China makes more than half of the world’s vehicle batteries and prices are forecast to fall to the point where electric cars will be cheaper in China that fossil fuel-powered vehicles.
The country is also home to 99% of the world’s electric bus fleet with 400,000 vehicles already on the roads. Shenzhen was the first city to replace all its buses, and is now replacing all its taxis too.
8. Chinese tourists are driving the growth of global tourism
As China has opened up to the world, so its citizens have set out to explore the globe. The number of Chinese citizens taking foreign holidays is growing at over 6% a year and McKinsey forecasts 160 million will take holidays outside China next year.
In 2017, Chinese tourists spent a quarter of a trillion dollars abroad. One London station now announces departures in Mandarin as well as English.
9. China is closing the gender gap, but lots more remains to be done.
Progress towards gender parity slowed in 2018 and China ranked 103 out of 149 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report.
It did see marginal improvements in the share of women in parliament and has fully closed its gender gaps in professional and technical roles and women’s tertiary enrolment.
10. It leads the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, China and India) for competitiveness
China featured at number 28 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index scoring highly on investment in research and development, infrastructure and IT adoption.
China’s innovation score is among the highest in the world, lagging only Germany, the US and Switzerland. But the Index says it needs to “improve performance on softer drivers of innovation, such as diversity, collaboration and various aspects of openness”.
So what’s stopping China reaching the top of the competitiveness league table? The Forum says it needs to promote competition in its domestic market by allowing foreign firms to compete with home grown industries and it calls for action to address “inefficiencies and rigidities in the labour market.”