As the Chinese economy continues to sputter, prominent corporate executives in China and Western economists say there is evidence that local and provincial officials are falsifying economic statistics to disguise the true depth of the troubles.
Record-setting mountains of excess coal have accumulated at the country’s biggest storage areas because power plants are burning less coal in the face of tumbling electricity demand. But local and provincial government officials have forced plant managers not to report to Beijing the full extent of the slowdown, power sector executives said.
Electricity production and consumption have been considered a telltale sign of a wide variety of economic activity. They are widely viewed by foreign investors and even some Chinese officials as the gold standard for measuring what is really happening in the country’s economy, because the gathering and reporting of data in China is not considered as reliable as it is in many countries.
Questions about the quality and accuracy of Chinese economic data are longstanding, but the concerns now being raised are unusual. This year is the first time since 1989 that a sharp economic slowdown has coincided with the once-a-decade changeover in the country’s top leadership.
Officials at all levels of government are under pressure to report good economic results to Beijing as they wait for promotions, demotions and transfers to cascade down from Beijing. So narrower and seemingly more obscure measures of economic activity are being falsified, according to the executives and economists.
“The government officials don’t want to see the negative,” so they tell power managers to report usage declines as zero change, said a chief executive in the power sector.
But … but … if China is a bubble that’s about to pop, who is going to buy our debt? Oh dear.