China and Japan: Asia’s Sleeping Giants

Of all regions in the world aiming for a bright future, none is closer to that goal than Asia. Asia, also known as the “sleeping giant” accounts for over sixty percent of the earth’s population with China holding a large amount of the sixty percent. Economically, Japan is in the forefront of the world with only the United States leading them in the  category of Gross National Product (GNP). Both Japan and China are looked upon by a great number of people as future leaders of the world.

What is remarkable about that statement is the fact that the two nations, while they might have commonalties, are so different. Some might assume that two nations in the same region cannot possibly have so many contrasting traits, but in the case of China and Japan, this is the case. Both China and Japan do have characteristics that they share such as culture and religion. The similarities end though when speaking about the health care system, the economy and the government of both “future superpowers.”

The health care system in China is one of the worst in the entire world. One would think that a nation who has been granted Most Favored Nation status by the United States would be able to provide their people with adequate health care. The fact is that the Chinese government does not have the funds to supply adequate health care to their over-populated nation. Moreover, the government in China faces the difficult task of whether or not to stress the quality of care to the Chinese people or to spread their medical resources to as many people as possible without the emphasis on high quality care.

China does have a health insurance system in place that provides free coverage for people employed in urban state enterprises. The problem with the insurance system is that eighty percent of China’s workers work in rural areas, not urban areas (China Online). The poor health system in China contributes to the low life expectancy rates and high infant mortality rates. Life expectancy at birth for males is sixty-eight years while for women it is seventy-one years.

The infant mortality rate in China is one of the worst in the country as it has a total of forty infant deaths for every one thousand live births. The main problem with the health system is not the inability of people to pay for health care, but the fact that there is an inadequate number of resources. There is not only a lack of human resources, but of actual medicines and instruments needed to aid the people in China. While it would be obvious for one to turn to the government for help, the government in China is the one at fault because all the major medical facilities are run by the government (China Online).

In contrast to the health care system in China, Japan’s improved health care system is one of the reasons why the Japanese people are living longer. Because of Japan’s bolstering economy, the Japanese people enjoy better living conditions and better medical care. As opposed to health care in China, there are a large number of hospitals all throughout Japan, not only in urban areas. Besides the numerous amounts of hospitals, there are also clinics and health care centers spread throughout Japan as well as health education classes in school. Moreover, the elimination of pandemic diseases has been possible due to the health care system (Japan Fact Book).

To recognize Japan’s superior health care system, one only has to look at the life expectancy and infant mortality rates of Japan. While China’s life expectancy rate is sixty-eight for males and seventy-one for females respectively, Japan’s life expectancy rate is seventy-six for males and eighty-three for females. The most astonishing statistic is that nof the infant mortality rate compared to that of China. While China has one of the highest infant mortality rates at forty deaths per one thousand live births, Japan has a rate of four infant deaths per one thousand live births.

Also in contrast to China, the government of Japan does not have control of a large part of the health care system but has established hundreds of medical centers throughout the country. The government also provides a great welfare system for their citizens in that they provide care for the elderly such as free examinations, home-help services, recreational and financial aid service. Free medical care is also provided by the government to expectant mothers and to young children who come from low income families (Japan Fact Book).

While Asia, as a collective unit, can boast of a great economy, it is not due in large part to China’s help. China is a socialist country in which the government plays a large role in what is called a command economy. A country with a command economy relies solely on what the government feels should be produced and sold and not on supply and demand. China’s soviet-style of a command economy has diminished somewhat but when there is no sense of private ownership, problems can occur.

In 1995, when inflation dropped dramatically, the government had a “difficult time collecting revenues from provinces, businesses and individuals, reducing extortion and other economic crimes and keeping afloat the large state owned enterprises” (China Online). The government’s decision to institute Western ideals such as an “open” market, has helped China increase their gross national product rapidly (Minami). One of the main reasons preventing China from being a hegemonic economic power is their enormous population.

Because of China’s immense population, they have a small per capita income of only $2,900 dollars, making them one of the poorest nations in the world. China exports approximately 148 billion dollars a year worth of goods such as garments, toys and footwear. Agriculturally, China is the leading rice producer in the entire world and is also a leading producer of wheat, tobacco, corn and cotton. While they do export a great deal, China imports approximately 132 billion dollars of commodities such as machinery, plastics, communications equipment and aircraft (China Online).

This means that they are only profiting from 16 billion dollars which they have to put back into the government for the production of exports adding yet another reason that is preventing China’s emergence as an economic superpower. In sharp contrast to the economic situation in China, Japan can boast fortuitously of having one of the strongest economies in the world. Ranking only behind the United States, Japan’s economy differs from that of China due to the governments minimal role in the economy. In Japan, the resources are always distributed through private channels rather than through the government, as in the case of China (Pilat, 177).

The government only plays a role in the economy by actually allocating public investment and by consulting with businesses. Japan’s mixed economic system is responsible for the rapid rate of economic growth, especially after WWII. Japan is one of the world’s largest producers of automobiles, steel and high-technology manufactured goods (Pilat, 153). Japan exports over 500 billion dollars a year worth of commodities in contrast to 148 billion for China.

This is extremely remarkable being that the size of Japan is comparable to the size of California while China is comparable to the size of the United States (Japan Fact Book). Japan exports machinery, automobiles and electronic equipment while they import 330 billion dollars of commodities such as foodstuffs, raw materials and fossil fuels (Japan Fact book). The willingness of Japan to trade with other countries is also one of the reasons why they are at the forefront of the economic ladder. The third and final differentiating aspect between China and Japan, as well as the most important, is government. China has a communist form of government that has been installed since the days of Mao Zedong in the late 1950’s.

The Chinese Communist Party is the part in power now since president Jiang Zemin is the general secretary of the party. The communist party is the “supreme repository of institutional power” in China (Magstadt, 367). The President and the Vice President of China are elected by the National People’s Congress for a term of five years. It is the job of the President to appoint the Premier and other members of State Council, issue orders of special pardons, proclaim martial law, proclaim a state of war, ratify treaties and receive foreign diplomatic representatives on behalf of the People’s Republic of China (Charlton, 186).

The National People’s Congress, consisting of about 3000 deputies, is supposed to be, under article 57 of the Chinese Constitution, the “highest organ of state power” (Charlton, 185). Due to the large size of the Congress though, they only meet once a year and do not play an influential role in the creation of laws. The head of the government though, oddly enough, is not the President of China, but the Premier. The Premier, Li Peng, is in charge of the State Council which is the chief executive organ of the government in China.

The Premier, along with the State Council, drafts laws, supervises the state beaurocracy, devises economic plans and constructs the national budget (Magstadt, 367). The main problem with the government in China is that the communist party “rejects elections as a valid measure of either legitimacy or popular support” (Charlton, 228). Moreover, the size of China as well as its diversity contribute to tensions within the party due to the fact that 1 billion people cannot possibly agree with a small groups thought on how the country should be run.

In sharp contrast to the Chinese form of government, Japan has a parliamentary form of government. The political authority in the parliamentary form of Japanese government rests with the prime minister and the cabinet. The Emperor is the chief of state but holds no power with the government other than appointing the prime minister, who is first designated by the Diet, appointing the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, promulgating laws and treaties and awarding state honors, all with the approval of the cabinet (Charlton, 166).

The Diet hold all legislative powers in the government and is popularly elected and consists of two houses, The House of Representatives which has precedence over the House of Councillors. The Prime Minister chooses the twenty cabinet members who are in charge of the annual budget. As opposed to the communist form of government in China, Japan makes decisions based on consensus.

The decisions, also in contrast to China, is made by the body of government which the citizens have elected where as in the National People’s Congress in China, the body that the citizens voted for do not make any influential decisions(Charlton, 185). One of the most important differences between Japan and China’s form of government is the ability of Japan’s citizens to form political parties. In China, the communist party rules over all. There are eight other small registered political parties but they are all controlled by the communist party.

In Japan, freedom to organize political parties is guaranteed by the constitution (Japan Fact Book). Parties in Japan include the Liberal Democratic Party, Social Democratic Party, Japan Communist Party, New Peace Party, The New Liberal Club and The Clean Government Party. One can see the diversity of the people in Japan in that there are conservative as well as liberal parties involved in the process. With Japan’s population at over 125 million and China’s at over 1 billion, one would think that there would exist more than one ideological thought in China other than communism.

After noting the differences between the two great nations, it is difficult to believe that they belong to the same region. Both China and Japan have the capability of becoming a superpower with Japan closer to achieving the goal than is China. China does have the human resources possible but would have to improve economically as well as attempt to represent a larger scope of the people within its boundaries. Japan is not only fit economically but also possesses a stable form of government that can be modeled after by other countries attempting to become capitalist societies trying to reach democratic ideals.

The emergence of both nations as superpowers is something the rest of the world should anticipate because the “sleeping giants” will awaken eventually.


Minami, Ryoshin; The Economic Development of China; St. Martin’s Press, New York,

NY; 1994.

Pilat, Dirk; The Economics of Rapid Growth; Edward Elgar Publishing Limited,

Brookfield, VT; 1994.

Charlton, Sue Ellen; Comparing Asian Politics; Westview Press, Boulder,


Magstadt, Thomas; Nations and Governments; St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY;


China Online;; America Online, 1999.

Japan Fact Book;; America Online, 1999.