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China Statistics Chief Says No Tolerance for Fake Data

China’s statistics-bureau chief said the agency has “zero tolerance” for falsified data after it publicized cases of manipulated local numbers and the customs bureau cracked down on fraudulent export invoices.

Incidents exposed by the agency are isolated and won’t affect the broader quality of data, Ma Jiantang, head of the National Bureau of Statistics, said today in Beijing at an “open day” attended by officials, journalists and school students.

China’s government has struggled to win the trust of investors and economists for data ranging from gross domestic product to trade. Li Keqiang, who became premier this year, said in 2007 that GDP figures were “man-made” and “for reference only,” according to a WikiLeaks cable.

Ma said that his agency has gained better control over the numbers through a direct reporting system that limits local officials’ ability to manipulate the numbers.

“Previously, for monthly data, industrial firms reported to the town, and then to the county, and then to the province, and then to us -- making it hard for us to spot any errors or even fraud,” Ma said. “But with the direct reporting system, raw data from enterprises will directly go to the National Bureau of Statistics, and it’s fair to say that we can now see any abnormal situations in data.”

Ma was referring to a system implemented from 2012, which allows 800,000 enterprises to submit numbers directly to Beijing instead of to local authorities.

Falsified Data

Still, problems persist. The statistics bureau found inflated data on industrial output in Henglan town in southern Guangdong province, according to a June 14 report by the state-run Xinhua News Agency. A county in the southwestern province of Yunnan falsified industrial output and fixed-asset investment figures, according to a China Information News report posted on the bureau’s website Sept. 5.

In June, Ma said that China would start an investigation to ensure the accuracy of numbers filed by companies and said that violations could be “severely punished.” At today’s “statistics for you” event, dozens of visitors saw exhibits including an abacus, old calculators and a model of a rural cottage said to have housed the Communist Party’s first statistics unit in 1933.

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