In addition to the increase in debt, China's missteps this year in the stock market intervention and shock currency devaluation raise questions on the leaders' ability to steer the economy towards growth.
"They have all the ingredients to execute a successful transition," said Arthur Kroeber, head of research at Gavekal Dragonomics. "The question is whoever is making decisions, does he know what he is doing? Leadership wants to execute this in a highly centralized way and we just don't know if that can be done."
Goldman Sachs estimated in early September that the Chinese government spent 1.5 trillion yuan (about $236 billion) to support the collapsed mainland A share market, which fell 45 percent from peak-to-trough this summer despite the capital injections. The U.S. government, when it was dealing with the financial crisis, committed $475 billion on bank bailouts and rescuing the auto industry.
Amid the devaluation of the yuan on Aug. 11, China's foreign reserves saw a record decline of $93.9 billion that month to a two-year low of $3.56 trillion. UBS Investment Bank forecasts foreign exchange reserves will fall at least $500 billion by the end of 2016.
To be sure, that would still leave China with more than $3 trillion in reserves. China is also already on track with the economic transition. Growth in the services sector has outpaced that of manufacturing in the last two years, a trend that trend keeps many investment analysts bullish on China in the long term.
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In the near-term, China's massive size means the much of the world will feel the pain of a bumpy economic changeover regardless of the ultimate result.
"China's OK internally within its boundaries," Mauldin said. "The rest of the world is going to have to adapt because they are not going to have debt-fueled commodity growth. That's a huge adjustment."