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China Economy

China to ‘cut local influence over economic statistics’

Move reported by source comes amid widespread scepticism about the accuracy of economic data produced by local officials in China

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 January, 2017, 1:05pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 January, 2017, 11:17pm

China’s central government plans steps that will reduce the influence local governments have on economic statistics, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The National Bureau of Statistics will move its teams out of joint offices they share with regional counterparts around the country and shift into separate facilities, said the person, who asked not to be identified because they aren’t authorised to speak publicly.

The plans also call for national statistics bureau staff to establish their own Communist Party committees and have independent channels for reporting data from the provinces back to Beijing, the person said.

Chinese province admits to cooking its books

The statistics bureau didn’t respond to a fax sent on Monday seeking comment on the measures.

The aim is to improve the nation’s official economic statistics, which have been dogged by disconnects. One example: the sum of provincial output by the country’s 31 regions regularly exceeds the published national gross domestic product figure.

Ning Jizhe, a close adviser to Premier Li Keqiang appointed as bureau chief in February, has called for improved tracking of the economy, including better measures of new industries and business models.

Ning also serves as deputy chairman of the country’s top planning body, the National Development and Reform Commission, giving him greater influence to ensure the execution of his policies. He holds additional sway as Communist Party chief for the statistics bureau, a sprawling bureaucracy of about 20,000 people.

Longstanding doubts over the veracity of China’s economic data could be a roadblock as the nation seeks to lure global investors to its bond markets and currency. It may also lead to bad policy outcomes. President Xi Jinping and other leaders in October called for independent investigations to ensure the accuracy, completeness and timeliness of statistics.

Scepticism about China’s numbers was exacerbated last week as the state-run People’s Daily reported Liaoning province faked fiscal revenue and other economic statistics from 2011 to 2014. Numbers were fudged because officials sought to advance their careers, the paper said, citing comments to provincial lawmakers by Governor Chen Qiufa.

The fraud misled the central government’s judgment of Liaoning’s economic status, Chen said, citing a report from the National Audit Office.

Can you still trust China’s economic data after province admits cooking books?

Friday’s GDP report showed growth accelerated for the first time in two years with a 6.8 per cent fourth-quarter expansion. At a briefing after the release, Ning defended statistics bureau data. Liaoning’s case has been taken very seriously, any fabrications will be eliminated, and punishments will be severe, he said.

Both the statistics bureau and the National Development and Reform Comission are under the auspices of the State Council, China’s cabinet, which in turn is led by Premier Li, a PhD. economist. Ning was appointed to the statistics post after his predecessor Wang Baoan was removed from office on suspicion of accepting bribes.