China’s annual growth figures have long been quite steady. Other large countries have had somewhat steadier growth than usual in the last several years. But China’s quarterly growth figures are suspiciously smooth, unlike quarterly growth in many other countries.
Politics are a major reason. Local officials often face pressure to meet targets from the central government. At the first hint of economic weakness, they have tended to step up spending to stabilize economic output.
Increasingly, China is owning up to data shortcomings, particularly in provincial data. The region of Inner Mongolia revealed this month that two-fifths of the industrial production it reported for 2016 did not exist. A year ago, Liaoning Province in northeastern China revealed that local governments had padded their economic growth statistics from 2011 to 2014.
Tianjin, a sprawling metropolis, briefly posted on one of its official websites last week that previous data had been inflated. The post was quickly deleted.
Ning Jizhe, the director of the National Bureau of Statistics, said at a news conference on Thursday afternoon in Beijing that there had long been discrepancies between provincial and national data, but that the gap had been narrowing. “Local data will not influence the reliability of national statistics data,” he said.
It can work the other way, too: Some economists cite evidence that China also understates its growth during booms to smooth its results.