BEIJING - China on Tuesday hailed the country's economic might after it overtook world number 2 Japan in the second quarter but said it still had tens of millions of people living in poverty.
Thirty years after opening its doors to the world, China has claimed the titles of world's biggest exporter, auto market and steelmaker in recent years.
Many expect China will this year become the world's number two economy, just behind the United States -- taking the title Japan has held for 40 years and underscoring its emergence as an economic force.
While China has for years stormed ahead with double-digit expansion in gross domestic product, Japan's growth rates have been comparatively low.
On Monday, Japanese data showed that while Tokyo stayed ahead of its Asian rival in the first half, its second-quarter GDP was smaller than China's.
But a commerce ministry official pointed out that in per capita terms, China lags far behind its rivals, and has a long way to go to becoming a world-class power.
"We should not only care about GDP data but also more importantly should pay attention to the per capita figures," commerce ministry spokesman Yao Jian told reporters at a regular briefing.
He said China's per capita GDP was $3,800, around 105th in the world, and added that 150 million of the country's 1.3 billion people live below the poverty line, according to UN standards. Japan's per capita GDP is more than 10 times that of China.
"The quality of China's economic growth still needs to be improved, no matter whether it is in terms of people's quality of life or in terms of science, technology and environmental protection," the spokesman said.
"We still have an enormous gap to make up."
The country's newspapers insisted that China, while contributing to global growth and helping to drive the world's recovery from the financial crisis, was still transforming itself into a world-class economic power.
"China's economic strength is also still at the level of a developing nation. So the world's second-largest economy is not the equivalent of the second-largest economic power," the People's Daily said in a commentary.
In just three decades, China has leapfrogged Britain, France and Germany on its economic ascent and has won developing countries a bigger say in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
However, the official China Daily said in an editorial: "The Chinese economy still has a lot more room to grow and can contribute even more to the global recovery.
"But for those who expect China to assume greater international responsibilities just because of the size of its economy, they should take a hard look at the enormous development challenges that the country still faces."
A columnist for the People's Daily, Li Hong, offered an optimistic outlook, claiming China could overtake the United States in 15-25 years.
"Our ultimate goal is, naturally, to reach the pinnacle by surpassing the United States and, once again, becoming the largest economy," Li wrote in the paper, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist party.