James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

Is China ginning up its GDP data?

December 6, 2010

Is China one giant Enron? Well, maybe not. Clearly, there is real growth going on there. But this does seem fishy:

China’s GDP figures are “man-made” and therefore unreliable, the mn who is expected to be the country’s next head of government said in 2007, according to U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

Li Keqiang, head of the Communist Party in northeastern Liaoning province at the time, was unusually candid in his assessment of local economic data at a dinner with then-U.S. Ambassador to China Clark Randt, according to a confidential memo sent after the meeting and published on the WikiLeaks website.

The U.S. cable reported that Li, who is now a vice premier, focused on just three data points to evaluate Liaoning’s economy: electricity consumption, rail cargo volume and bank lending.

“By looking at these three figures, Li said he can measure with relative accuracy the speed of economic growth. All other figures, especially GDP statistics, are ‘for reference only,’ he said smiling,” the cable added.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy to China was not immediately available.

Chinese economic numbers, especially at the provincial level and lower, have long been viewed with suspicion by analysts.

“That China’s GDP is not reliable, especially for local GDP, that is nothing new,” said an economist with a foreign bank who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of discussing top national leaders. ”Some of the volume data, such as power and rail freight and even (bank) credit, are interesting because there is less incentive to massage them at the local level. But they reveal only part of the truth, not the entire truth,” he said.

Ouch. Then you start to recall all those stories about the nation’s empty cities and ghost malls

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