Hu Angang, director of the Center for China Studies, Chinese Academy of Sciences and Tsinghua University, has been receiving criticism for suggesting that China has overtaken the US as the world leader in terms of economy and technology.
While netizens criticized Hu, they also engaged in heated discussions over the real strength of China and the US.
Some analysts reached by the Global Times on Tuesday said that despite the gradually narrowing gap between China and the US, China still lags behind the US on comprehensive national strength and needs to learn from the latter in many fields.
"China's economy has grown, and is about two-thirds of that of the US. But its per capita GDP is low. Compared to the US, China also needs to improve the quality of its economic development," Bai Ming, a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
China should change its economic development pattern and transform high pollution and high energy consumption into green industries, Bai noted.
Data from the World Bank shows that in 2017, the US topped the world's GDP ranking among 192 countries at $19.4 trillion, or one-fourth of global GDP, while China accounted for 14.9 percent of global GDP. The US ranked eighth in world per capita GDP, with China in 75th place.
Bai said that "the development level of the high-tech industry also reflects a nation's strength and China has gained the advantage in some fields, including high-speed railways and nuclear power. But the US has occupied the international high-end market for years and has tried to block China. It will take years of investment in high-tech for China to catch the US up."
It may take more than a decade for China to catch up with the US in terms of economy, and China also needs to further open up its financial industry and make its economy more efficient, according to a 2017 Dongxing Security report on the comparative economic strengths of China and the US.
Narrowing the gap
Aside from economic strength, military power, domestic political situation and international influence are also important indicators of a nation's comprehensive strength, experts said.
Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University's Institute of International Relations, said that "the US leads in military strength since it continues to have the world's largest military budget. The US military has also gained experience in actual combats as the US has been involved in many wars since the end of the Cold War."
Data released in 2017 by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, an independent resource on global security, shows that the US' fiscal 2017 military budget was $611 billion and China's was $215 billion.
However, on the domestic political situation, the US is divided into political groups and lacks political cohesion, Li said, adding that opposing views on US President Donald Trump reflects US social problems, and Trump is also part of the problem.
The US is gradually isolating itself from its allies since Trump touted his "America first" policy, and the US has become less influential in convincing its allies to take part in its plans, Li said.
"Compared to the US, China has fewer domestic problems. China's international influence has increased and more countries choose to work with China instead of worrying about US unpredictability," Li said.
"The gap between China and the US in terms of comprehensive national strength is narrowing, but it will take China some time to catch up. Saying that China has overtaken the US is overly optimistic and would affect our policies toward the US. It should be avoided," Li said.
Yang Xiyu, a senior research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing, told the Global Times that "opinions on the comparative strengths of China and the US, as well as on the current trade frictions have polarized China."
"When the trade frictions began, some wanted to fight the US to the end, while others were diffident and concerned as the frictions escalated, which is an immature thinking in China's development," Yang said.
"The US is an inevitable topic in discussions on China's peaceful development. And China is still a developing country and in the primary stage of socialism. Realizing these would be better for our future development," Yang noted.