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WikiLeaks Reveals Powerful Chinese Government Official Admitted China's GDP Figures Are Unreliable

A senior government official widely believed to be in line to become China's next prime minister describes Chinese economic figures as "man-made" and "therefore unreliable," according to a cable released by WikiLeaks.

The 55-year-old Li Keqiang, currently the country's executive vice premier with responsibility for macro-economic management, related his skepticism about China's official GDP numbers in a private conversation with the US ambassador back in 2007.

The cable was discovered among the WikiLeaks documents by Malcolm Moore, a reporter for the Telegraph based in Shanghai. (Hat tip: FT Alphaville.)

Here's the cable:

Describing some of the challenges he faces as Party Secretary, Li related that despite brisk economic growth of SIPDIS 12.8 percent in 2006, Liaoning’s income gaps remain severe. Liaoning ranks among the top 10 Chinese provinces in terms of per capita GDP, yet the number of its urban residents on welfare is among the highest in the country and average urban disposable income is below the national average. By contrast, rural disposable incomes are above the national average. Even so, incomes for Liaoning farmers are only half that of urban residents.

4. (C) GDP figures are “man-made” and therefore unreliable, Li said. When evaluating Liaoning’s economy, he focuses on three figures: 1) electricity consumption, which was up 10 percent in Liaoning last year; 2) volume of rail cargo, which is fairly accurate because fees are charged for each unit of weight; and 3) amount of loans disbursed, which also tends to be accurate given the interest fees charged. By looking at these three figures, Li said he can measure with relative accuracy the speed of economic growth. All other figures, especially GDP statistics, are “for reference only,” he said smiling.

This will no doubt anger officials in the Chinese government. The question is whether this will undermine Li's standing in the government. This doesn't sound like the sort of thing the rulers of China want their ministers to be saying to US government officials.

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