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With an economic growth rate averaging 10% a year for the past decade, the People’s Republic of China has become the fourth-largest economy and the second-largest energy consumer on earth. The Chinese economy is largely driven by domestic demand, with a population of more than a billion people, and is expected to keep its agility well into the 21st century.
“Under current market-based estimates, China’s gross domestic product is about three trillion dollars compared to 14 trillion for the United States” (AFP).
Because of its status as an emerging economy, China was invited to the 34th annual G-8 Summit, recently held in Toyako, Japan, to take part in some of the discussions.
Beijing now finds itself at a crossroads, faced with several critical decisions, such as choosing its energy partners for the future. The nation is expected to overtake the United States by 2010 as the world’s chief energy consumer. China’s internal development of energy resources has been unable to keep up with the pace of growth.
Valery Yazev, president of the Russian Gas Society, said, “China is one of the countries that are reshaping the energy map of the world today.” She added, “China is our most important partner in the Asian-Pacific region and this trend is only growing stronger” (Russian Profile).
Russia will be playing a more important role in the future of China’s energy supply, due to ecology concerns causing the use of coal to be phased out, to be replaced with Russian-supplied gas. Current trade between the two countries has increased from $48 billion in the previous year to more than $60 billion in 2008 (ibid.).
The nominal growth, along with China holding 43% of the emerging market’s foreign exchange, has resulted in changes within Chinese society. For example, basic eating habits are beginning to resemble a more Westernized type of eating.
USA Today published the findings of Professor Barry Popkin, director of the Obesity Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, in which he said 275 million of the Chinese population were overweight in 2006—compared to 8.8% in 1989. He also stated that the changing lifestyles of China’s citizenry were a contributing factor to the rise of global food prices.
“The average Chinese adult has shifted drastically from a diet of grains, beans and vegetables to consuming over half of calories from cooking oils, pork, poultry, beef, mutton, fish and dairy foods. Plus, the Chinese are less physically active than they used to be as more people move into sedentary jobs and buy motor scooters and cars” (ibid.).
“China needs to adopt national policies to change this trend,” Professor Popkin warned, “or face a dramatic increase in early deaths, disability, absenteeism and medical care costs from weight-related illnesses.”
The Economist reported that China’s expansive growth onto the world stage has not been accepted without concern. There are fears that, in its rush to secure much-needed resources, global corruption and exploitation of Third World nations will occur, and that the effects of such abuse will be seen in China and its neighbors. The more China has imported fuel for its economy, the more it has depleted what cannot be imported, such as clean air and water.