China’s number is up in fake figures controversy

Secrecy is an integral part of the ruling Communist Party – so is distorting data

It was the year of dodgy data. In 2021, the sheer scale of manipulating official statistics reached new heights in China.

From economic numbers to population figures, there were astronomical anomalies.

Yet this is nothing new. In fact, it has been Beijing’s normal practice for years.

Back in 2020, Strategy Risks Founder Isaac Stone Fish illustrated the problems of fact-checking China’s data.

“The Chinese Communist Party manipulates its statistics. This is neither an opinion nor a revelation: it’s a simple fact, critical to understanding China today. Chairman Xi Jinping demands that Chinese journalists prioritize loyalty to the Party over truth or accuracy,” he said.

“[Premier] Li Keqiang, who runs China’s economy, once smilingly told the US ambassador that most Chinese statistics are ‘for reference only,’ and that statistics on [the] gross domestic product especially are ‘man-made,’” Stone Fish, a contributing columnist for Global Opinions and a visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund, wrote in a commentary for The Washington Post in 2020.

When 1 +1 = 11:

There are insufficient figures reflecting negative changes [in the economy].

Former Chinese Finance Minister Lou Jiwei

Delve deeper: Beijing has promised to plug the holes in its collection of data. New statistical guidelines were released by the powerful State Council last week after being approved in August.

What it means: “The rules [will] narrow the gap between [the] government narrative and market reality … and improve the quality of [China’s] economic data,” the South China Morning Post reported.

Silencing the critics: The decision to overhaul the system came after former Chinese Finance Minister Lou Jiwei broke Communist Party protocol earlier this month and spoke out about the issue.

What he said: “There are insufficient figures reflecting negative changes [in the economy]. In contrast, the US has both positive and negative numbers,” Lou told a forum held by the China Center for International Economic Exchanges in Beijing.

Big Picture: China has a track record of manipulating data. In 2019, the Financial Times reported that the economy “was about 12% smaller than official figures indicated,” according to a report by the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think-tank.

Déjà vu: Nothing much has changed in the past two years, according to Stewart Paterson, the founder of the research group Capital Dialectics.

Stat attack: “If official statistics are to be believed, 2020 saw the Chinese economy grow by 2.3% in real terms. It is an often-repeated statistic in the mainstream media and seldom carries a caveat. Has it been repeated enough for people to believe it,” Paterson asked.

China Factor comment: Secrecy is an integral part of the ruling Communist Party of China. So, it is hardly surprising that facts and figures are distorted. Expect 2022 to be more of the same, despite Beijing’s pie-crust promises.