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China's 2008 GDP numbers: good or bad?

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The Beijing News
January 23, 2009

At a press conference yesterday, China's National Bureau of Statistics announced GDP figures for 2008.

Most of today's newspapers reported the key numbers, which included an annual growth rate of 9%, a fourth-quarter growth rate of 6.8%, and an annual CPI growth rate of 5.9%.

The majority of papers led with some variation on the neutral headline "Last year's GDP grew 9%". Some chose to highlight absolute figures, as in the Beijing Morning Post's declaration, "Last year's GDP broke 30 trillion," while others took more of a local focus, as in the Chinese Business View's reporting of the numbers for Shaanxi Province: "15.6%: Seven years of continuous high growth for the provincial GDP."

On the negative side of things, the Southern Metropolis Daily and The Beijing News noted that 9% was a seven-year low for GDP growth.

Both newspapers are ventures of the Southern Media Group, which occupies the liberal end of the spectrum of Chinese media. Last April, commentary it published in the wake of the Lhasa riots sparked a massive flame war that pitted "angry youth" who frequent nationalist-leaning forums against China's liberal press. Wen Feng (aka. Mei Ninghua, president of the Beijing Daily Group), wrote an op-ed for the Beijing Evening News at the height of the controversy that delivered a concise summary of Southern Media Group's reputation, chock-full of ironic scare-quotes:

...the Southern Media Group, with [Southern Weekly] at the lead, has always set itself up as China's most "western" newspaper, the "boldest," "keenest," and most "penetrating" newspaper, one that tirelessly promotes western "universal values" and "free press."

The Beijing News, which is operated through a partnership with the Guangming Daily (headline: "2008 Gross Domestic Product Increases 9%"), ran with this headline at the top of the page:

9%: Last year's GDP growth was lowest in 7 years

Influenced by the financial crisis, China's fourth quarter GDP growth was 6.8%, CPI for the year increased 5.9%

A similar headline was used in the group's flagship newspaper, the Southern Metropolis Daily:

Last year's 9% GDP growth was a 7-year low

Overall, the national economy maintains stable, relatively fast growth; the CPI rose 5.9% year-on-year, a 12 year high
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Global Times
January 23, 2009

On the other side of the aisle is the Global Times, a sibling of the People's Daily that often gets called "nationalistic" or even "jingoistic." Here's the headline and first paragraph of that paper's defiant front page report:

China's Record in '08 Deserves Respect

Economies of developed countries are mired in negative figures; Western media continues to sneer at China

China's most recently-released GDP growth figures for 2008 have found completely different reactions at home and abroad. Many domestic academics breathed a sigh of relief at the "better than expected" numbers released on the 22nd, and some people even believe that China's economy has already begun to rebound after bottoming out. The rise in the Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong stock markets precisely expresses investor optimism toward the numbers. But at the same time, there was widespread anxiety in the western media over China's farewell to double-digit growth, particularly the slip to 6.8% in the fourth quarter, and worries that the country would not be able to maintain its 8% target. Predictions that this would bring turbulence to China were heard all over. Taking a look around, from Korea and Japan to Europe, growth in the fourth quarter last year was practically all negative. A gulf of 12% or more separates them from China's 6.8% growth rate. China is still holding tightly to its position as a growth leader. Those who sing of China's decline may well be frightened by the present situation. Or perhaps they really are willing to see the whole world badly off if it means that China will collapse. But chaos has not come to those negative-growth countries, so why should chaos come to China? Such criticism once again belittles the resilience of Chinese society.

The article goes on to cite doom and gloom predictions from The Wall Street Journal, Le Monde, The Times of London, and The Los Angeles Times.

By framing the debate over the meaning of China's GDP numbers as yet another us-versus-them argument in which domestic cheerleaders face off against global forces eager to see China fail, the Global Times misrepresents the Chinese media as speaking with one voice and ignores the real differences of opinion that do exist.

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There are currently 8 Comments for China's 2008 GDP numbers: good or bad?.

Comments on China's 2008 GDP numbers: good or bad?

At the end of the day, the published GDP growth figure doesn't matter as much as tangible economic factors like employment, income, and the affordability of goods. So regardless of how it is reported, the facts on the ground so to speak will not change. Of course media reports have a role in shaping expectations, but people are far more concerned with their personal economic situation than that of the nation.

By framing the debate over the meaning of China's GDP numbers as yet another us-versus-them argument in which domestic cheerleaders face off against global forces eager to see China fail, the Global Times misrepresents the Chinese media as speaking with one voice and ignores the real differences of opinion that do exist.
is that the makings of a thesis i see there?

Danwei seldom takes a position on the news it covers. you should do it more often.

I'm curious how reliable this figure actually is. Provinces are renowned for massaging their growth figures, and this is an aggregate of all the provinces put together, plus it would be in the interest of the CCP to then tweak the national number.

I mean, think about it: in the last year the stock market has tumbled 65%; real estate in many key markets has fallen 20%+, exports have tanked, imports are suffering - yes, consumer spending is up. But where is this 6.8% growth, year on year? All I hear from my Chinese friends is how tough times are, how many can't find jobs or afford the things they covet.

What sort of independent agency vets the numbers touted by the central government? Should we trust these figures?

nothing to worry about china's economy.ups and downs are taken for granted in the long term devolopment.and the capabality of chinese leaders to handle crutial situation is well known, their infrastructure spending is world famous. so 9% GDP growth is not that much bad wt western writers are showing.

How do you know the Stats bureau use provincial numbers, do you have a source?

According to this article (link):

"The GDP calculation is complicated with collecting all the annual reports and financial data which could only be gradually obtained, said Ma."

So these numbers are not final.

I agree with slowboat - more commentary would be welcome.

Yes, the Global Times loves to talk about the foreign media "ganging up" on China - was anyone expecting anything different?

Again we face the revision of "liquid" figures. 9% growth to reach RMB30 trn in 2008? Let us consider the official figures for GDP in 2007, which is still published as RMB24.953trn, which would make RMB30trn a 20.5% growth over 2007, which means the 2007 figure has quietly been revised upwards, although not in official print (and no longer available on the NBS website). Even so, based on the published figures for 2007, the total GDP figure given in the NBS Yearbook was 2% more than the sum of the provincial GDPs, printed in the same book.

As with stock market value, actual GDP figures are often a poor indicator of what is really going on. More reliable, probably, are the growth rates published, which tend to reflect reality, whatever that is.

I concur with "Fake Chinese" that the best indicators are those tagible factors such as employment, prices, availability and variety of goods, that mark out a measure of progress.

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