Problems With China's Data in the Past, Statistics Bureau Says

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China’s statistics bureau defended the reliability of its data, emphasizing the government wants quality growth, not fast expansion, and so doesn’t need to artificially inflate the data.

"China isn’t chasing fast growth - the growth rate can come down as long as it’s quality growth, employment is ensured, prices are controlled and the manufacturing environment is improving," Mao Shengyong, director of the Department for Comprehensive Statistics at the National Bureau of Statistics, told reporters at an event in Beijing on Wednesday.

Even if it’s slower, quality growth of that sort is acceptable, Mao said. Therefore, the central government has no motivation to ask statisticians to make the number higher, he said, adding that he hadn’t experienced that kind of pressure personally.

Without accurate data, the government will struggle to understand what’s actually going on in the economy, which is critically important as growth slows. While authorities have strengthened supervision, stepped up punishments and opened a web page to name and shame local authorities after a number of provinces were found to be overstating gross domestic product, China watchers still aren’t fully convinced official statistics are accurate yet, citing anomalies in data such as industrial profits or retail sales.

"There were some problems before in the compiling of statistics but they weren’t that serious and so through much hard work over the last few years, we dealt with it," said Mao. Previously, some local governments had faked data and there had been methodology issues such as double counting of inter-provincial business activity, which meant that the aggregate of provincial output was larger than the national GDP, he said.

At least 23 out of 31 provinces in China have lowered their 2019 economic expansion goal from those set for last year, and the central government is also widely expected to announce a lower national target in March.

That is fine, according to Mao.

"We’ve been able to deal with the problems by changing the methods we use and also because the attitudes of the local government officials have changed. They’re no longer intent on high growth rates," he said.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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