China Removes Economic-Stats Chief Amid Discipline Probe

  • Wang ousted days after anti-graft body announced investigation
  • Scandal could further erode confidence in official statistics

China removed Wang Baoan as statistics chief on unspecified allegations of corruption, underscoring the opacity of politics and government data that make it difficult for outsiders to understand the world’s second-largest economy.

Wang, 52, was sacked from the National Bureau of Statistics under suspicion of “severe disciplinary violations,” the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing the organizational department of the ruling Communist Party’s Central Committee. The decision to remove Wang from both his party and government posts came three days after the anti-graft body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, announced the suspected violations, using the party’s usual euphemism for corruption.

Wang Baoan
Wang Baoan
Source: ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images

China’s closed political system as well as economic statistics that are far less detailed than in most developed nations have confounded analysts for years struggling to understand how the nation works. Wang is among scores of high-profile officials to fall in President Xi Jinping’scorruption crackdown, seen by some as an effort to consolidate power.

“Most people may see this as net positive because it isn’t a surprise to anybody dealing with China that there are widespread corruption problems,” said Andrew Gilholm, head of China analysis at Control Risks Group in Shanghai. “In the financial sector though, credibility takes a hit especially after the mishandling of the stock-market rescue.”

Xi’s campaign has spread to the finance industry and its regulators in the wake of a $5 trillion stocks rout in the middle of last year.

The case isn’t likely to be related to Wang’s statistics work because he only joined the bureau in April, Bloomberg Intelligence Economist Fielding Chen said. “The investigations more likely relate to previous posts at the Ministry of Finance, where he worked in various capacities since the 1990s,” Chen said.

Mizuho Securities Asia Ltd. said actual growth may be lower after China last week reported 6.9 percent expansion in gross domestic product for 2015.

Wang personally defended the bureau’s record just days before his investigation was announced. “The GDP we published is genuine and credible,” he said at a Jan. 19 briefing, citing tax data that support the readings and the size of his survey team.

Other doubts about China’s data were fanned this month as figures showed the gap between the country’s reported exports to Hong Kong and the shipments registered by the territory widened in December, suggesting a fresh round of fake trade-invoicing may have been spurred by currency-market moves.

Xi earlier this month vowed not to ease the anti-graft campaign, saying he’s determined to make China a place where “nobody dares to be corrupt.” After snaring about 100 high-ranking “tigers” and thousands of other mid-level officials, the campaign would this year increase its focus on local corruption, he said.

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