Is China the next Japan?

In a world where most national economies are intertwined, plenty of people are worried about the health of earth's second- and third-largest economies, China and Japan.

As China's growth cools off following decades of historically high rates, that slowdown and the recent Chinese stock market meltdown are causing even more uncertainty about the global economic landscape.

The Asian Development Bank is projecting China's growth rate to be at its lowest level in about 25 years, and below Beijing's official rate of around 7 percent for the year.

Concerns are growing as well that the actual Chinese GDP number may much lower than what the official reports say. Some analysts estimate the actual figure may be more in the range of 4 percent to 5 percent.

China-watchers are also taking note of the nation's declining consumption of oil, copper and other commodities -- as well as a drop in electricity demand -- as additional indications of a downshifting economy.

China is hugely important to the health of the global economy: It contributed nearly 40 percent to the world's economic growth last year, according to Barclays.

That drop in Chinese commodity demand is affecting a wide spectrum of companies and nations that have been supplying China with raw materials for years. A recent study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimated that the current global GDP growth of 3.3 percent this year would fall by around 0.5 percent if Chinese demand dropped sharply.

The economic slowdown stems in part from China's efforts to shift from decades of growth dependent on manufacturing, exports and investment to an economy fueled by consumers in the nation's rapidly growing middle class. And that shift is directly affecting the U.S. economy.

Explaining the Federal Reserve's decision last week to postpone a hike in U.S. interest rates, Fed Chair Janet Yellen noted that "heightened concerns about growth in China and other emerging market economies have led to notable volatility in financial markets."

The minutes from the July meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, which determines monetary policy for the Fed, also noted that "a material slowdown in Chinese economic activity could pose risks to the U.S. economic outlook."

Another nation dealing with the fallout of China's slowdown, analysts say, is Japan. Its economy, which unexpectedly fell into recession last year, is being further hurt by a drop in its exports to China. That raises the chances of additional monetary easing by the Bank of Japan, as the central bank tries to stimulate the national economy.

Like present-day China, Japan's economy was once considered a powerhouse. Its swift economic recovery and growth following the devastation suffered in World War II became known as the "Japanese Miracle."

Japan's economic strength meant the country's companies were able to buy up some notable American assets in the late 1980s and early 90s, including New York's Rockefeller Center and California's famed Pebble Beach golf course. Such deals sparked public hostility in the U.S. against Japanese investors.

But then came what's known as Japan's Lost Decade. That's when bursting equity and real estate bubbles, along with economic stagnation and price deflation, helped bring the Japanese Miracle to an end.

That trajectory could lead to speculation about parallels -- and possible lessons to be learned -- between what Japan's economy went through and where China is now heading. But it's not so simple, said Chris Tang, a professor at UCLA's Anderson School of Management.

"Japan is much smaller, much more homogeneous" than China, he told CBS MoneyWatch. It also has a much higher standard of living than China, and Japan's internal markets are "pretty much saturated" compared to China's immaturity.

Tang noted that Chinese living standards have a lot of room for improvement, which means more opportunities for domestic manufacturing and sales of refrigerators, air conditioners and other household appliances.

Japan's population is also aging quickly, which has put additional stress on efforts to jump-start the nation's economic growth.

Meanwhile, as UCLA's Tang pointed out, China has relaxed its controversial one-child policy in recent years, which promotes a growing, younger population that will further stimulate the Chinese economy.

Another economist at UCLA, Jerry Nickelsburg, said China and Japan have very different economic post-war histories. Whereas Japan was an industrial nation that reindustrialized and played economic catchup after World War II, China was a rural, agricultural economy that started "much further back" in terms of its human capital. China is also going through a massive internal migration, as millions of rural peasants move into its cities for work.

"So, China is really dealing with a very different situation," Nickelsburg told CBS MoneyWatch. "To point to Japan is to point in the wrong direction, with the exception of the fact that, once you're caught up (economically), you can only really grow as fast as your population and technology."

And despite having "all the trappings" of a market, capitalist economy, China's centralized, authoritarian leadership has entered uncharted territory when it comes to its attempts to bring the country's economy under control.

"The Chinese government can move the pieces around, if you will, much more easily than the Japanese government has been able to do," says Nickelburg, "because it has very strong elements of a command-and-control economy."