China is fast outpacing India in terms of national competitiveness, but needs to learn from India's legal system and protection of “vulnerable” groups, the country's top think-tank has said in a report.

A report on “national competitiveness” released by the official Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), which is China's leading think-tank, also forecast that China would become the world's second-most powerful nation after the United States by 2050, and overtake the U.S. to become the largest economy in 2030.

CASS publishes “blue books” ranking countries in terms of national power, which are widely read by academics and officials here. Many CASS scholars advise the government on policy issues.

The findings of this report, which measured economic factors, were published in many official newspapers on Tuesday. While the rankings are a subjective assessment by Chinese scholars, who assigned points on criteria ranging from progress in science and culture to technology and workforce talent, they are a reflection of how academics here view their country's position with respect to other nations.

The report ranked China 17th overall in terms of national competitiveness in 2008. India was ranked at 42, one spot below Bulgaria and ahead of Kazakhstan.

“China's overall national competitiveness is slightly stronger than India, but India is ahead of China in some areas,” said Ni Pengfei, the editor of the report.

The report pointed to the rule of law, protection of vulnerable groups and the preservation of traditional culture as areas where China ranked lower than India.

The study featured a detailed comparison of China's and India's respective advantages. It said before the year 2000, the two countries were “at a similar level,” but in the last decade China made “quick adjustments” that had resulted in a widening gap in competitiveness, since 2004.

India had “obvious advantages” in industrial structure, the report said, pointing to a services sector which accounted for 52.94 per cent of economic growth, compared with China's 41.89 per cent. It forecast “a more intense level of competition” for resources between “the world's two fastest growing countries.”

“China's comprehensive competitiveness has seen a leapfrog promotion over the past two decades, and it has huge potential and strong capability to catch up with and surpass developed nations in the future,” said Mr. Ni.

China, however, lagged behind the U.S. and Europe when it came to higher education, technological talent and cultural appeal. The report particularly stressed that China needed to do more to boost its soft power, amid increasingly negative perceptions of China's rise both in the West and among its neighbours.

“We should think of a country's cultural power when talking about its national competitiveness,” Chen Shaofeng, a scholar at Peking University, told the China Daily.

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