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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - China's economy is likely to surpass the United States in less than two decades but the Asian country is not expected to take on the superpower role of the United States in gathering coalitions to deal with global issues, U.S. intelligence analysts said on Monday.
By 2030 Asia will overtake North America and Europe combined in global power based on gross domestic product, population, military spending and technological investment, a new intelligence report said.
"China alone will probably have the largest economy, surpassing that of the United States a few years before 2030," it said. "Meanwhile, the economies of Europe, Japan, and Russia are likely to continue their slow relative declines."
The report, "Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds," was issued by the National Intelligence Council, an analytical arm of the U.S. government's Office of the Director of National Intelligence. In addition to U.S. intelligence analysts, the report includes the views of foreign and private experts and can be seen here www.dni.gov/nic/globaltrends.
It is the fifth report of a series - the previous one was released in 2008 - that aims to stimulate "strategic thinking" among decision makers and not to predict the future. The reports intentionally coincide with presidential election years to offer insights on global trends to new administrations.
Despite the economic power of China, the United States is expected to retain its superpower status because it still is the only country able to pull together coalitions and mobilize efforts to deal with global challenges, analysts said.
"China isn't going to replace the U.S. on a global level," Mathew Burrows, counselor to the National Intelligence Council, said at a media briefing. "Being the largest economic power is important ... (but) it isn't necessarily the largest economic power that always is going to be the superpower."
China recognizes that it cannot play that role of organizing across regions and across state-nonstate boundaries, he said.
The health of the global economy increasingly will be linked to progress in the developing world rather than the traditional West, the report said.
Economic growth in emerging markets was expected to drive technological innovation and flows of companies, ideas, entrepreneurs and capital to developing countries will increase, the report said.
"During the next 15-20 years, more technological activity is likely to move to the developing world as multinationals focus on the fastest-growing emerging markets and as Chinese, Indian, Brazilian, and other emerging-economy corporations rapidly become internationally competitive," the report said.
"Technology will continue to be the great leveler. The future Internet 'moguls' - as with today's Google or Facebook -sit on mountains of data and have more real-time information at their fingertips than most governments."
That data will enable private companies to influence behavior on as large a scale as government entities.
The widespread use of new communications technologies will mean social networking will enable citizens to join together and challenge governments, as seen in Middle East, but will also provide governments "an unprecedented ability to monitor their citizens," the report said.
In the Middle East, the youth who drove the Arab Spring will give way to a gradually aging population and with new technologies starting to provide the world with other sources of oil and gas, the Middle East economy will need to increasingly diversify, the report said.
The United States, one of the world's biggest energy consumers, could become energy independent in the next two decades, the report said. "The U.S. has regained its position as the world's largest natural gas producer and expanded the life of its reserves from 30 to 100 years due to hydraulic fracturing technology."
But the key for the Middle East will be the political landscape.
"On the one hand, if the Islamic Republic maintains power in Iran and is able to develop nuclear weapons, the Middle East will face a highly unstable future," the report said. "On the other hand, the emergence of moderate, democratic governments or a breakthrough agreement to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could have enormously positive consequences."
Islamist terrorism might end by 2030, but terrorism is unlikely to disappear completely because states may use such groups due to a "strong sense of insecurity," the report said.
"With more widespread access to lethal and disruptive technologies, individuals who are experts in such niche areas as cyber systems might sell their services to the highest bidder, including terrorists, who would focus less on causing mass casualties and more on creating widespread economic and financial disruptions."
Future wars in Asia and the Middle East could include nuclear weapons, the report said.
Countries with nuclear weapons might consider exploding a device to wipe out an opponent's ability to use electronic systems that cannot operate in a radiated environment, rather than to harm people, the report said.
The next two decades will see a spread of lethal technologies and a "wider spectrum of more accessible instruments of war" especially precision-strike, cyber and bioterror weapons, the report said.
"A cyber arms race is likely to occur" as states seek to defend infrastructure against cyber attacks and to incorporate cyber weapons in their arsenals.
"The degree to which cyber instruments will shape the future of warfare is unclear, however," it said.
Editing by Christopher Wilson and Bill Trott