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Toyota has overtaken General Motors as the biggest global automaker at a time when China companies have yet to establish their own brand names.

Now, with Japan in the rear view mirror, can China catch up with the United States?

Yes, say many analysts.

China could match the U.S. in total output as early as 2020, said a World Bank forecast in June. But still, it said per capita income would be one-fourth the U.S. level, comparable to Malaysia or Latin America.

Achieving even that will require China’s unelected, secretive leaders to radically change their state-dominated economy.

They need to promote technology and education, fight rampant corruption that is stoking public anger and resist temptation to favor government-owned companies at the expense of a dynamic private sector that creates jobs and wealth.

Success is far from guaranteed, warn the World Bank and others.

They say China, Mexico and other developing countries easily can stall at middle-income levels if they fail to develop an educated, creative work force and legal systems to support innovation or if they allow entrenched companies to stifle competition.

“Are they going to pass the U.S. in total GDP? Yes, very likely,” said Scissors. “Are they going to move into upper-middle-income status? That’s a much tougher thing.”


Associated Press writer Tomoko A. Hosaka in Tokyo contributed to this report.