x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Beijing's bad data

Chinese bureaucrats are distorting economic data to make themselves look good. Ultimately, it is a disservice to the entire country.

In their 1995 book on China's ascendancy, China Wakes, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn predicted that Beijing's economic miracle would one day rewrite the world's "diplomatic, political and military balance". But The New York Times correspondents also cautioned that the course of China's rise would be difficult to measure. And yesterday we learnt why: Beijing is addicted to bad data.

As the Times reported at the weekend, bureaucrats are cooking the books. Numbers on the slowdown of energy production, considered the gold standard for measuring the state of China's economy, are being underreported at the provincial and local levels, clouding the true picture of the country's economic slowdown.

The Times also says a number of cities and municipalities are overstating economic output to their superiors in Beijing, among other deceits.

Chinese officials deny the claims, but it wouldn't be the first time local leaders sent glowing reports to the capital in bid to look good at home. During the Great Leap Forward, local leaders went to great lengths to hide the failings of Mao Zedong's agricultural reforms; some ordered wheat stocks dug up at fields Mao had just visited and replanted at his next stop.

China has come so far since Mao's disastrous economic experiments. It is hard to understand why it still makes some of the same mistakes.