China’s system allows for the manipulation of figures and data on the country’s economic situation – on the one hand to protect the country’s international economic standing and on the other hand to secure Xi’s rule.
When it comes to numbers released by the Chinese leadership, caution is always advised. In Xi Jinping’s empire, everything is subordinate to his political ideas and demands, there is nothing apolitical. For example, the number of deaths that the People’s Republic states as victims of the corona virus should not be correct. Because a high death toll would mean that the government has lost control of the pandemic. And this impression must not arise under any circumstances.
Forbes magazine has calculated that the official information provided by Beijing cannot be correct. According to the calculations, which Forbes agrees with, the official figures are 17,000 percent (!) below the real number of deaths!
Alexander Görlach is a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York. The PhD linguist and theologian teaches democratic theory in Germany, Austria and Spain as an honorary professor at Leuphana University. In the 2017-18 academic year, he was at National Taiwan University and City University Hong Kong to conduct research on China’s rise. He is currently researching new technologies at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute and how they are used in democracies and abused in dictatorships.
Such fatally incorrect figures occur because the Chinese system is structured in such a way that specifications are given from above, which then have to be fulfilled. Above all, indicators that the economy must achieve. The provinces are struggling to meet Beijing’s requirements and doing so, shall we say, creatively.
This approach is not new in the Middle Kingdom. But since the 20th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party will take place in the fall, at which leader Xi Jinping would like to be proclaimed president for a third time, this year more will depend on the Chinese women believing the official figures than usual.
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According to the Chinese constitution, a president only has two terms in office. However, Xi wants to rule for life and has therefore had the limit lifted. In order to emerge proud and strengthened from the meeting in autumn, however, he needs good economic indicators.
So far, they have not materialized because the Covid pandemic, more precisely, his “zero Covid” strategy is not working, so that important metropolises such as Shanghai have been in lockdown for 50 days, the port and many of the city’s factories are not working properly and so on Chinese as well as the global economy will be affected.
The five to six percent economic growth announced at the beginning of the year was therefore already considered unrealistic by analysts. The World Bank and other actors are now estimating what could be possible this year at a maximum of 4.3 percent.
China’s observers arrive at these figures by juxtaposing different data sets to find out what the reality looks like beyond the official figures. For example, the unemployment rate has risen to just over six percent, and youth unemployment is as high as 18.4 percent.
Nevertheless, the government is sticking to its target of 5.5 percent economic growth. According to one calculation, consumption would have to increase by 640 billion dollars, investments in companies would have to be 300 billion dollars higher than last year and the value of export goods would have to be around 100 billion higher than last year, a record year. In view of the lockdown and unemployment, an unattainable goal.
The mood in the country is corresponding: during the first days of the lockdown in Shanghai, when the communist leadership asked the citizens to open the windows of the apartments in which they were locked up in the evenings and sing propaganda songs of praise to the CCP, they screamed people instead cursing and insulting into the night.
This protest was heard worldwide via social media. In the autumn there will therefore be a showdown at the CP Congress. Experts expect that while Xi Jinping will be proclaimed president again, people will be appointed to the Politburo and a prime minister will be elected who represents a different course from Xi Jinping. This would then send a signal to the international markets that China should once again be more about the economy and less about propaganda.