VERMILLION — Formerly the premier world power, China is on its way to regaining that title.

That's what a group of professors said at a forum held in Farber Hall on the University of South Dakota's campus Monday.

Dr. Randall Waldron, an associate professor of economics, has been to China several times, most recently as a Fulbright Scholar during the 2006-2007 academic year.

"If I were to make a single major point relating to Chinese economic growth and the relative position of China in the world, it would be this: Approximately 120 years of American (dominance) of the global economy are almost over," Waldron said.

The last time China held this position was 1870, before it was unseated by a combination of rapid growth and industrialization in the United States, as well as political strife within its own borders.

"China is rapidly closing the gap once again, and in the very near future, the Chinese economy will once again be the largest in the world," Waldron said. "I don't think that's a matter of if. In fact, I'm very confident it's simply a matter of when. I think it will be much sooner than most Americans realize.

"We're not talking within our lifetime — we're talking within a decade or so," he said.

Waldron predicted that within a generation, China's economy will be more than twice the size of the U.S. economy, thanks in part to a new emphasis on growth.

"A big saying among Chinese students these days is, 'We are the world's factory,'" he said. "If you visit China, you certainly get a feel for that."

Currently, industry consists of approximately 49 percent of China's gross domestic product, followed by service industries at 40 percent and agriculture at 11 percent.

However, Dr. Xuejun Wang, a professor with the Division of Biomedical Sciences with the Sanford School of Medicine in Sioux Falls, pointed out that 80 percent of China's population is made up of farmers. Consequently, the majority of the population will be associated with the nation's major growth industries.

Compared with the farmers in China, "farmers here are rich," Wang said.

Additionally, Dr. Kaiya Liu, assistant professor of marketing, said that for China to grow the way its leaders want it to, it is "going to need a lot of resources, and China does not have all those resources."

This could lead to problems with the United States, one of which could be its relationship with Iran, which it relies on for oil.

In other areas, though, China is becoming more progressive, Liu said.

"In the last year, China has really decided to go green," he said. "Of course, China is still the number-one greenhouse gas emitter. It's still the most polluted country, but China's leadership has sort of come to a realization that China needs to go green. Otherwise their economic development won't be sustained."

One area in which China is still falling behind is how women are treated.

Dr. Lucy Dai, assistant professor of courtship and marriage, and criminology, said there is a still a disparity between how women in urban and rural settings are treated.

She said that while domestic violence remains a large issue in rural areas, women in cities suffer from a "glass ceiling effect" in relation to their wages.

The devaluation of women relates partially to China's "one-child policy," which dictates that couples in urban areas can only have one baby. Rural parents are allowed two.

This has led to some issues with parents who find they are expecting daughters rather than sons.

"It is now illegal for the doctors to tell the couple the gender of their baby," Dai said. "Some couples choose to have an abortion. If they have a baby daughter, they just choose to have an abortion. If they have a baby boy, they will keep that baby."

Liu said learning more about China could be beneficial for students in the future.

"I think it's good for you to pay attention to what's happening in China, because you're going to be competing with students from there," he said. "Learn some Chinese culture, some Chinese language. That will offer you a competitive advantage."

The forum was sponsored by the Beacom School of Business.

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