China should pay more attention to surpassing the United States in terms of improving people’s lives and contributing positively to the world, rather than pursuing the goal of becoming the world’s No 1 economy, said the country’s vice foreign minister on Tuesday. Le Yucheng made the comments a day after China published its 2021 gross domestic product (GDP) growth figure of 8.1 per cent , beating expectations and moving its economy closer to the size of that of the US. “Exceeding the US in GDP, we are not interested in it, and this is not what we are going after,” he told a forum held by the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at the Renmin University of China in Beijing. “To meet the people’s desire for a better life, this is what the Communist Party of China aims for.” ‘Shocking’ fall in China’s national growth rate as population ageing intensifies The World Bank estimated the US economy grew by 5.6 per cent last year. That meant the Chinese economy was likely to have been 80 per cent of its size, up from 70 per cent one year earlier, according to South China Morning Post calculations. When asked whether China would become the next superpower, Le said the country was not pursuing global hegemony. “We should oppose the Cold War mentality of unilateralism, interference in internal affairs, making coterie and group politics,” he said. Bilateral tensions between the US and China have escalated in recent months, despite a virtual summit between President Xi Jinping and US counterpart Joe Biden that tried to find a way to improve ties. Experts said the two nations have reached a stalemate in trade talks. China-US relations face “great difficulties” but responsibility lay with Washington, Le said. “The crux of the problem lies in the US’s wrong China policy, wrong understanding of China, wrong views of the times and world,” he said at the forum. “China and the US should not play a boxing game, we should play a track and field competition … that is to say, to win the game and the future by becoming a better self.” A report issued by the Chongyang Institute on Monday urged the US to turn its China economic policy from decoupling to “recoupling”, separate from politics, which would allow a wide range of cooperation from pandemic control to infrastructure construction. China’s annual per capita GDP rose to US$12,551 in 2021, approaching the high-income threshold of US$12,696 defined by the World Bank in 2020. Despite China’s better-than-expected growth last year, Beijing is on high alert for economic headwinds, including a shrinking population, a property sector slowdown and local government debt. Many analysts have warned the annual growth rate is likely to slow to 5-5.5 per cent in 2022. It was previously thought China’s economy would become the world’s largest by around 2030, but Yao Yang, dean of Peking University’s national school of development, said it could happen between 2028-30, citing China’s growth momentum. The economist said China’s GDP would likely be twice the size of the US’s by 2049.