It’s finally happened: China’s economy has overtaken Japan’s. Less than 20 years after Deng Xiaoping told his people that “to get rich is glorious”, and three decades after the Chinese Communist Party began its first timid opening to the outside world, the Central Kingdom has surpassed its rival across the Sea of Japan. China is now officially the world’s number two and, unless something inconceivable happens, it will hold that place until it becomes number one, maybe as soon as 2030.
There are several reasons why Japan stopped growing after the crash. An ageing population, a shrinking birth rate and a national disinclination to admit millions of immigrants are among the obvious ones. But one reason economists tend to overlook is the following: with the Cold War coming to an end, Japan saw that, for the first time since the 1850s, there really was nothing to fear any more.