China's chief statistician warns of fake data

His revelation reflects concerns about reliability of country's economic figures

BEIJING • China's top statistician has accused local officials of "falsifying" economic figures and warned that offenders would be severely punished, reflecting growing concern about the reliability of government data, reported Agence France-Presse.

"Currently, there have been occasional cases of local sectors falsifying statistics and practising fraud, which violate statistical laws and regulations," Mr Ning Jizhe, director of the National Bureau of Statistics, wrote in the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily yesterday.

He said Beijing had "zero tolerance" for fakers and violators would "pay a genuinely high cost" as the authorities tried to "create an environment where they will not dare, not imagine, not think of breaking the law".

"A number of cases that involved the falsification of statistics were investigated and dealt with," he said, adding that "administrative punishments have been carried out".

Officials and analysts in China and abroad have long questioned the accuracy of Chinese economic figures which many suspect are often manipulated to make the economy look more robust than it really is.

According to the Financial Times, most prominent are concerns about gross domestic product figures. Compared with other countries, China's inflation-adjusted GDP growth rates are remarkably stable from quarter to quarter, even as nominal figures show considerable volatility. The National Bureau of Statistics has denied charges that it manipulates inflation data to massage headline growth figures.

One of the problems, AFP reported, has been that local bureaucrats' promotions are tied to economic performance, giving them an incentive to falsify data.

Even Premier Li Keqiang has expressed doubts about the reliability of his country's statistics. Leaked diplomatic cables from the United States show that when he was the top official in Liaoning province in 2007, Mr Li told the then US ambassador that such data was "man-made".

In March, Chinese Customs officials said a single exporter in the north-eastern city of Dalian had over-reported the value of its fake eyelash exports by five times.

Mr Ning's predecessor Wang Baoan was expelled from the Communist Party in January on suspicion of disciplinary violations.

China's anti-corruption watchdog announced that Mr Wang was under investigation but did not specify whether the investigation was related to data falsification, the Financial Times reported.

In October, a powerful Communist Party task force led by President Xi Jinping issued policy guidelines calling for "increasing data accuracy" through methods that include harsher penalties for falsification.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2016, with the headline 'China's chief statistician warns of fake data'. Print Edition | Subscribe