More than 70 Chinese smaller cities and counties have dropped gross domestic product as a performance metric for government officials, in an effort to shift the focus to environmental protection and reducing poverty.
The move, which follows a directive issued by top leaders last year, is among the first concrete signs of China switching its blind pursuit of economic growth at all costs towards measures that encourage better quality of life.
Analysts say that adherence to GDP as a performance metric – thus linking it to local officials' promotion – has contributed to environmental degradation and urban sprawl as officials encouraged heavy industry and bulldozed agricultural land to build housing developments.
"Using GDP as the main assessment method has caused a lot of problems, like unequal income distribution, problems with the social welfare system and environmental costs," said Xie Yaxuan, head of macroeconomic analysis at China Merchants Securities in Shenzhen.
Hebei, a steelmaking province north of Beijing, and Ningxia, an impoverished ethnic minority region in northwest China, have cancelled GDP-based assessment for poor counties and cities, the official Xinhua news has reported in recent months.
Evaluation will instead be based on raising living standards for poor residents and reducing the number of people living in poverty.
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"We need to look at obvious achievements as well as hidden achievements," President Xi Jinping told party leaders in June. "We can no longer simply use GDP growth rates to decide who the (party) heroes are."
The directive was outlined in a landmark economic reform blueprint released late last year at a key Communist party meeting.
Fujian, the coastal province that is a centre of export processing and light manufacturing, announced this month that it would replace GDP with metrics on agricultural development and environmental protection for 34 agriculturally and ecologically important counties.