The man in charge of China’s deeply suspect economic data is now under investigation

Wang Baoan delivers the data.
Wang Baoan delivers the data.
Image: EPA/How Hwee Young
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Wang Baoan, the head of China’s National Bureau of Statistics, is under investigation for “serious violations of party discipline.”

In party-speak that phrase typically means an official is suspected of corruption. The information was posted in a single-line statement (link in Chinese) late in the evening on Jan. 26 by state news wire Xinhua.

The statistics bureau publishes China’s GDP figures, which are viewed very suspiciously by analysts, investors, and even other country’s officials, who think the government is inflating them to save face. But the bureau is also in charge of construction, manufacturing, income, and other data—essentially the framework used to measure and analyze China’s economy. As Quartz previously reported, a whole host of Chinese data is regularly manipulated to achieve the correct GDP headline figure and give the illusion of growth where the economy is slowing down.

The fact that the country’s head of statistics has been put under investigation just days after a major GDP announcement could indicate that Beijing intends to revamp the way that China’s growth is measured, for a more believable figure. But the motivations behind the investigation could just as easily be political, as Wang just took the top statistics job last April. Earlier, he spent 17 years in the finance department, overseeing issues such as investment spending and financial policy decisions.

If Wang’s departure means a more accurate—and likely lower—official GDP rate, that could initially sink confidence in China’s economy even further, but would be a long-term gain for China’s bid to maintain credibility in world markets. It could also mean that figures will get massaged even more than many suspect they already are. Either way there is no evidence of concern in the markets; in morning trading today (Jan. 27), at least, they have remained unusually calm.