Business / Macro

Data can give full voice to China's goals, achievements

By Li Yang (China Daily) Updated: 2014-01-30 07:36

Data can give full voice to China's goals, achievements

Imported thermal coal is unloaded at the Lianyungang wharf, Jiangsu province. In 2012, the energy China consumed equaled 3.62 billion tons of standard coal, 20 percent of the world's total. [Wang Chun / for China Daily]

Glowing headlines aren't enough: The nation needs to change how it generates and calculates economic growth, reports Li Yang

The Chinese saying "as rich as a country" was often used to describe the wealth of California after Silicon Valley's rise.

Now, the saying is finding a new context in China, where Guangdong province ranked 15th in the world last year with a gross domestic product of 6.22 trillion yuan ($1.02 trillion), up 8.5 percent. The provinces of Jiangsu and Shandong were close behind, with 5.92 trillion yuan and 5.47 trillion yuan, respectively.

China has plenty of reasons, though, to question the sustainability and costs behind the glowing GDP numbers, set against a backdrop of smog and soaring housing prices.

The pollution blanketing huge swaths of the nation reminds the government that a hefty chunk of years of economic expansion will eventually be consumed by the cost of cleaning up the worsening environment.

The exchange rate is another factor affecting the calculation of the economy. The renminbi's rise against the dollar - about 35 percent since 2005 - has amplified the provinces' GDP.

Consumer prices have risen at an official annual rate of 3 to 5 percent in the past few years. However, if higher housing costs and scarce high-quality medical and educational resources are taken into account, there's a large gap between perception and reality for the average Chinese resident.

Income gaps aren't narrowing, either. The Gini coefficient, a measure of wealth polarity, stayed above the international "warning line" from 2003 to 2013, holding at 0.47 to 0.49.

The Chinese mainland may have enough rich people to populate France. It also has 120 million destitute citizens living on less than $1 a day - the world standard for absolute poverty.

Demanding task

The government has its work cut out. It must keep growth high while transforming the growth model.

That the backward industrial structure remains largely unchanged in China since the 1990s drives home the power local governments have in shaping the growth model.

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