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When Will China Be the World’s Biggest Economy? Maybe Never

A debt crisis, international isolation, and a shrinking population are some variables that could block Beijing’s quest to lead the world.

A flyover in Guangzhou, south China's Guangdong province. 

A flyover in Guangzhou, south China's Guangdong province. 

Photographer: STR/AFP/Getty Images

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When will China outstrip the U.S. to claim the top spot in the world economic rankings? For Beijing, it would be convenient if everyone viewed that transition as inevitable and imminent. The reality is, it’s anything but. A debt crisis, demographic drag, and international isolation could all keep China stuck in perpetual second place. (This piece draws on Bloomberg Economics long-term growth forecasts first published in July 2021.)

Alternative Futures
On its current trajectory, China is set to overtake the U.S. and claim the global economy’s top spot in about a decade. But that outcome is far from guaranteed. Bloomberg Economics has modeled a base case and alternate scenarios: a China upside driven by successful reforms; a slower path dragged down by a shrinking population and international isolation; and Beijing’s nightmare, a debt crisis.