Premier's close ally to head China's statistics agency

Mr Ning is from the same province as Premier Li and has advised him on economic policy. Mr Ning will continue to serve as vice-chairman of China's top planning body, the National Development and Reform Commission.
Mr Ning is from the same province as Premier Li and has advised him on economic policy. Mr Ning will continue to serve as vice-chairman of China's top planning body, the National Development and Reform Commission.PHOTO: CHINA FOTO PRESS

Previous chief under graft probe; bureau has drawn flak for questionable economic data

BEIJING • China picked a close adviser to Premier Li Keqiang as chief of the nation's statistics agency, which has been criticised for years over publishing economic data at odds with other measures of growth.

Mr Ning Jizhe, who has advised Mr Li on economic policy, will lead the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the government said in a statement last week.

He will also continue in his current role as vice-chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, the top planning body.

Mr Ning, 59, and Mr Li, 60, are both natives of Anhui province, where they grew up in hometowns less than a two-hour drive apart, before becoming economists. Mr Ning is the main author of speeches and reports that are presented by Mr Li, who rose to became China's No. 2 leader three years ago. The two often travel together on official trips.

The short, stout official with a noticeable regional accent made his way to the key post in Beijing after once serving as a rural production leader, as Mr Li did.

Mr Ning earned an economics PhD from one of the country's top schools, Renmin University, in the 1980s, when such intellectual accomplishments were still relatively rare.

Mr Ning replaces Mr Wang Baoan, who was removed in January over unspecified allegations of corruption after less than a year on the job.

The change was announced by the statistics bureau in a statement on its website on Friday. Mr Ning takes over an agency that has dealt in recent years with challenges, including leaks of its data. The NBS in the past has defended its calculation of inflation and how that affects its real gross domestic product estimates.

"There's reason to believe that the quality of data coming out of China will improve over time," according to a report last month by the investment management division of Goldman Sachs Group, which cited China's move towards meeting International Monetary Fund standards for disseminating data.

"In the meantime, however, we remain circumspect about the quality of its reporting."

Just days before Mr Wang's investigation was announced, he personally defended the veracity of NBS data released in January that showed economic output grew 6.9 per cent last year. "The GDP we published is genuine and credible," he said at a press conference after the data release, citing tax data that supports the readings and the size of his survey team.

Private economists have pointed to continuing discrepancies between the national growth calculations and estimates from individual provinces that, added together, would exceed the total size of the economy.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 29, 2016, with the headline 'Premier's close ally to head China's statistics agency'. Print Edition | Subscribe