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China enjoys bumper 2001 amid global gloom (12/14/01)

While much of the world has endured a grim year, China is celebrating an exceptional 2001 crowned by a trio of achievements: World Trade Organisation membership, Beijing's capture of the 2008 Olympics and its footballers reaching their first World Cup.

As most countries contemplate a 12 months blighted by economic slowdown and the fallout from the September 11 attacks, China is instead preparing to welcome the new year amid general euphoria.


With annual economic growth estimated to be about 7.4 percent -- figures looked at with envy by Western nations bracing for recession -- China has succeeded at almost everything it turned its hand to in 2001.


Beijing was given the honour of hosting the 2008 Olympic Games in July, edging out Toronto and Paris eight years after a previous bid failed narrowly.


The International Olympic Committee vote prompted an explosion of public joy on streets around the country, as did October's success by China's football team in winning through to next year's World Cup finals.


Football is China's most popular sport, with vast numbers of youngsters following championships in countries such as England, Italy and Spain along with the fortunes of the Chinese national side.


"All these events show that China has become stronger and deserves more respect on the international stage," said 37-year-old Beijinger Wang Zhen.


These successes in international community gained by China are important for the people, and also bring prestige to the government.


"The victory of the national team... prompts confidence in and hope for the renaissance of the Chinese nation," boomed the state People's Daily after World Cup qualification was sealed.


China's entry to the WTO on December 11 following 15 years of often torturous negotiations is likely to be the most significant of all.


WTO entry will usher in a process of profound reform in China's economy and give a major boost to prosperous export-led regions, already the major beneficiaries of China's opening-up over the past 20 years.


But exposing Chinese economy to the buffeting forces of global commerce also poses challenges.


According to many experts, sectors such as agriculture, insurance, and banking could face a battle for survival.


This is likely to be the major challenge for 2002, analysts say.


"The coming year risks being more worrying," said Joseph Cheng, a political scientist at Hong Kong's City University.


China must confront major challenges in 2002, he said, including legal changes needed to conform with WTO rules, and the impact of a global economic slowdown.


China has set a 2002 growth target of 7.0 percent, against 7.4 percent this year.

 
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