Fresh doubts raised over reliability of China’s latest GDP figures
A former official at a government regulatory body slams new National Bureau of Statistics data and claims only mainland’s top decision-makers know the truth
Concerns about the trustworthiness of China’s economic data can be traced back decades and Tuesday’s official gross domestic product (GDP) figures have renewed doubts about the actual resilience of the economy.
The observers believe the poor performance of other indicators shows that conditions facing the mainland’s economy are worse than the GDP report suggested, despite the government defending the credibility of its figures.
The National Bureau of Statistics said on Tuesday that China’s GDP rose 6.9 per cent in 2015 compared with the year before – the slowest growth in 25 years.
READ MORE: Economists raise doubts over data reliability as China reports lowest growth rate for 25 years
Wang Baoan, head of the statistics bureau, said he stood by the accuracy of the data. He told a press conference on Tuesday that the appraisal of GDP featured solid and accurate data.
However, one former official with a government regulatory body said the economic data was “not accurately reported” and that only China’s top decision-makers knew the real situation.
“The [“around 7 per cent)] target must be achieved, [so] a lower level is not acceptable,” said the person, who declined to be identified.
An economist at a bank based in southern China said the methods used by the statistics bureau were scientific, but the data had been inflated in an attempt to meet political needs.
“The data is not reliable, and the real economic growth last year could be less than 5 per cent,” he said.
The state-run Xinhua news agency reported last month that officials in northeast China had admitted to seriously falsifying economic data for years, leading to distorted policy decisions and sparking corruption in the region.
That fabrication of data had covered GDP growth, investment, consumption, trade, as well as income and shanty area renovation, Xinhua said, adding that inflated data had suggested the economy in some counties in the region had surpassed that of Hong Kong.
A Communist Party inspection team in Shanxi province said it had discovered that the problem of overstated economic data was a “prominent” problem.
Shanxi and China’s northeast provinces are the areas that have been hit the hardest by the current economic downturn.
“Deflation, the yuan’s depreciation, capital outflows and negative export growth – there is really no spotlight to support stable growth,” said an economist at a Western investment bank, based in Beijing. “In addition, investment and retail sales did not offer any good news.”
Dong Dasheng, after retiring as deputy chief of the National Audit Office, admitted that local-level economic data had been fabricated in previous years, with some local governments inflating their levels of fiscal revenue by 50 per cent.
The situation had improved since 2013, amid the sweeping campaign to fight graft and corruption, but the problem still persisted, Dong said last March.
With the services sector’s growing prominence in the mainland economy, alternative indicators to gauge the manufacturing sector’s performance, like power consumption, offer little help to make better assessment of the overall economy.
The Beijing-based economist said that there was no consistent data or regular release in order to track changes.
The National Bureau of Statistics launched a new and more internationally accepted gauge on the unemployment ratio and pledged to publish it regularly from this year onwards.
The ratio – the urban surveyed unemployment ratio – stayed at about 5.1 per cent to 5.2 per cent last year.