Without claiming any particular expertise on China, I would suggest two reasons some people refer to China as a "developing" country. But I emphasize "some" - it seems like many view China as a unique case, rather than attempting to squeeze it into such a broad category. The first reason is that development is, by most accounts, a multi-dimensional concept that includes income per capita, but includes other dimensions as well. A particular country can be more developed in some of these dimensions, and less so in others. That multi-dimensionality complicates any effort to classify countries as "developed" versus "developing." On the income dimension, questions of "developing" versus "developed" clearly focus on income per capita, rather than total national income. Ethiopia's total GDP is many times greater than that of Luxembourg, but no one would describe Ethiopia as being more developed than Luxembourg. In the case of China, its total income is a bit larger than that of the United States, but on a per capita basis, China is in the middle of the upper-middle income category defined by the World Bank. As of 2017, its income per capita was $16807 at current PPP, or 28% of that of the United States. That’s arguably too small a fraction for China to be counted as a developed country on the income dimension.
Meanwhile, on at least some other dimensions of development, China also lags well behind other countries generally recognized as developed countries. In particular, the Communist Party's continued exclusive hold on political power calls into question the country’s political maturity; essentially all other developed countries are multi-party democracies. The severe barriers maintained against rural-urban migration make it hard to claim that all Chinese are equal before the law; indeed, the whole concept of the rule of law appears to be somewhat problematic in China. On all these dimensions, China does not appear to be close to the threshold of being a fully developed country. Hopefully, the progress China has made in the economic sphere will inspire ongoing progress in other dimensions of development.
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