Analysts split over report saying China 'far healthier' than America

Research institution's report saying China much healthier than America splits analysts, with some questioning its methodology and assumptions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 January, 2013, 4:54am

A report by a top mainland academic institution that suggests China is in a far healthier state than the United States and will soon overtake the world's only superpower economically has sparked controversy, with some analysts casting doubt on it.

China's "national health" has been better than that of the US since 2007, and its advantage will grow further from 2019, when China is expected to become the world's biggest economy, the Chinese Academy of Sciences said in its first National Health Report.

National health was defined as a country's "overall conditions … using resource sufficiency and wealth distribution as the major criteria", Xinhua reported, without elaborating.

Describing the US as a man past his prime and China as a vigorous youngster, the report said national health was the best form of capital that China could use to surpass the US.

China was likely to surpass the US in an all-round way by 2049, the year the People's Republic will celebrate its centenary, state media quoted the report as saying.

Analysts questioned the methodology used by the researchers and their conclusions.

"There are a lot of questionable hypotheses in the report. They assume everything in China will go smoothly. They don't take into account uncertainty," said Zhuang Jian , senior economist at the Asian Development Bank's mission in China.

Zhuang said China was at a historic juncture in its development, and faced many challenges that would require fundamental reform if it was to overcome what economists call the "middle income trap" and ensure sustainable growth.

A report on the popular news website quoted Xiang Songzha , chief economist with state-run Agriculture Bank of China, as saying the report was questionable. "China lags far behind the US in medical and education services, housing and pension systems," Xiang said.

The Global Times, a tabloid known for its nationalistic stance, said the report's findings were seen by some as being overly chauvinistic. "The report is indicative of anti-US sentiment in Chinese society," Fang Zhouzi , famous for exposing academic fraud, told the paper.

Much of the online reaction was satirical, with one blogger saying the academy should put North Korea at the top of the happiness list, followed by China and with the US ranked last.

But in an interview with China News Service, Yang Duogui , head of the research team, rejected the criticism, saying that the methodologies used were commonly employed by international institutions.

The report included assessments of what it called the "national health" of 100 countries, analysing factors such as economic immunity and national decision-making and enforcement capacity and national responsibilities. The countries were classified into four categories, based on their national health status.

In the "national responsibilities" category, China ranked second, while the US ranked bottom. China also topped others in the "immunity" category.

Overall, China was ranked 11th, with a national health status of "up to standard", while the US, Japan, Germany, France and Britain were among the 37 countries rated "health deficient".

Sweden, Finland and Australia ranked among the top 10 countries, with "surplus health". Ethiopia, Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan were ranked at the bottom. Several decades of rapid economic growth has made China the world's second-largest economy.