Statistician rejects foreign criticism of growth figures

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 April, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 April, 2002, 12:00am

The deputy director of China's State Statistical Bureau (SSB) has defended the accuracy of its data and attacked foreign critics as illogical and ill-informed.

Qiu Xiaohua, an economist who has become familiar over the past several years as the bureau spokesman, was announcing first-quarter economic figures.

'I have read all the criticisms of our data by the foreign scholars. The logic and data they use is flawed,' he said.

It is not only foreign specialists who are sceptical of bureau figures. Many members of the public dismiss them as the creation of officials eager to advance careers and hide failures, by reporting what superiors want to hear.

Last year, all but one of the provinces and regions reported a higher economic growth figure than the national one, which means many or most were lying.

'The only truth in the People's Daily is the date,' is a popular quip among Beijing taxi drivers.

Mr Qiu said the foreign critics had three main arguments.

First was growth in energy consumption was substantially below the economy as a whole. But this happened in countries such as Germany, Japan, South Korea and the United States when they went through the rapid development China is seeing now.

'Over the past 10 years we have made major technical improvements and the structure of our industry has changed, slowing growth in energy use,' he said.

The second argument was that transport expansion did not match economic growth. This was flawed, however, as non-state firms accounted for 70 per cent to 80 per cent of road transport, the reverse of the proportion that prevailed in the past, and foreigners only looked at the growth in the state transport sector.

The third argument was to extrapolate from the slow growth in the rural economy.

'While two-thirds of our population live in rural areas, output from the land accounts for only 16 per cent of the economy,' he said.

Over the past 20 years China had made great strides in collecting statistics, he said, and in 1993 it adopted the calculation system advocated by the United Nations.

Over the past two years, the SSB had established Internet links with 5,000 leading industrial firms, 3,000 property companies and 1,000 commercial firms, enabling it to receive data directly.

It also conducted its own surveys to supplement reports it received.

Mr Qiu said that last year it had uncovered 62,000 cases of figures that were fake, late or improperly reported or not provided at all, which he called a small number compared with the 20 million industrial firms it surveyed.

'But, compared to developed countries, we still have our shortcomings. Our figures are not fast or complete enough,' he said.