Hiroko TABUCHI The New York Times
TOKYO — Japan’s economy has been surpassed by China’s, the Japanese government confirmed on Monday, after its gross domestic product shrank slightly in the last three months of 2010 compared with the previous quarter.
Japan’s G.D.P. fell 0.3 percent in the October-December quarter as the end of generous government incentives on environmentally friendly cars resulted in a temporary decline in spending.
The contraction, the first in five quarters, brought Japan’s economy for 2010 to $5.47 trillion, the Japanese Cabinet Office said. That compared with a $5.88 trillion economy for fast-growing China. At an annualized rate, Japan’s economy shrank 1.1 percent from the previous quarter.
The latest numbers are just a reinforcement of China’s rapid ascent as an economic superpower, as China surpassed Japan last summer after the half-year gross domestic product numbers were released. Just five years ago, China’s gross domestic product was around $2.3 trillion, about half Japan’s.
Japan’s economy has stagnated over the last two decades, reflecting its continued decline in economic and political clout.
The country had the world’s second-largest economy after the United States for much of the last four decades. In the 1980s, its rapid growth even led to talk of the Japanese economy overtaking that of the United States.
But while Japan’s economy is now mature and its population quickly aging, China is in the throes of urbanization and industrialization. Still, China’s per-capita income is about $3,600, less than one-tenth that of the United States or Japan.
Japan’s economy, however, stands to benefit from a fast-growing China. Last month, the Japanese government said that its economy could soon rebound, as exports and factory output are helped by strong demand from China and other emerging economies in Asia.
The outlook has lowered expectations that the Bank of Japan, which is starting a two-day policy meeting on Monday, will take any imminent measures to ease monetary policy.