Doubts cast over credibility of annual China city rankings

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 September, 2013, 9:02am

A think tank has defended the methodology behind its annual study tracking the competitiveness of key cities in China after two academics cast doubt on the credibility of its findings.

Gui Qiangfang, chairman of the China Institute of City Competitiveness, which is based in Hong Kong, emphasised that the survey was conducted by an international team of experts, and that the methodology was reviewed from time to time.

In June, the institute said its survey showed that Hong Kong had gone from second to fifth in terms of its competitiveness in China because of "slower economic growth and weaker governance". It also said that mainland cities such as Tianjin and Shenzhen would likely overtake Hong Kong in the next few years in terms of economic might.

In response, the local government said it would "read the report carefully and find areas where Hong Kong needs improvement".

But economist Andy Kwan Cheuk-chiu told Cable TV that the projection could be problematic because it was based mainly on the city's economic growth last year - which was only 1.4 per cent.

"I believe that Hong Kong's [economic growth] will be higher than 1.4 [per cent] in the next few years. For example, [if] it is 3 per cent then you are underestimating it by half," Kwan said. Gui, who has business interests in the real estate and technology sectors, admitted that he handed out survey questionnaires to members of his commerce association. But he said that did not present any conflict of interest as the annual study also involved "seminars and interviews with local businessmen".

But Chung Kim-wah, an associate professor at Polytechnic University, was concerned about the potential influence of Gui's business ties on the survey.

Gui is director of five local companies, including listed firm Hong Kong Life Sciences and Technologies Group, property company Kei Yan, and an investment and finance consultancy. He also heads a commerce association and is a government adviser to 13 mainland cities.

Chung said Gui needed to be extra careful about transparency given all of his directorships and advisory positions.

"These roles could cast doubt on the credibility of the survey," Chung said. "I think the institute needs to further explain its methodology if it wants to have more credibility with academics."

Responding to a query from the South China Morning Post, Gui, who lives in a luxury apartment in West Kowloon, said his chairmanship of the institute was "academic and unpaid". "I have never used my [surveys] to make money … I [have earned a living] through more than two decades of real estate investment in Hong Kong," Gui said.