China Names Close Adviser to Premier Li as New Statistics Chief

  • Ning Jizhe has helped shape Li Keqiang's economic policies
  • Goldman Sachs sees China's economic data improving over time

China picked a close adviser to Premier Li Keqiang as chief of the nation’s statistics agency, which has been criticized for years over publishing economic data at odds with other measures of growth.

Ning Jizhe, who’s advised Li on economic policy, will lead the National Bureau of Statistics and be its top Communist Party official, the government said in a statement Friday. He’ll also continue serving in his current role as vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, the top planning body.

Ning, 59, and Li, 60, are both natives of central China’s Anhui province, where they grew up in nearby hometowns less than a two-hour drive apart, before becoming economists. Ning is the main author of speeches and reports that are presented by Li, who rose to became China’s No. 2 leader three years ago. The two often travel together on official trips.

The short, stout official with a noticeable regional accent made his way to the key post in Beijing after once serving as a rural production leader, as Li did. Ning earned an economics Ph.D. from one of the country’s top schools, Renmin University, in the 1980s, when such intellectual accomplishments were still relatively rare.

Recent Challenges

Ning replaces Wang Baoan, who was removed in January over unspecified allegations of corruption after less than a year on the job. He takes over an agency that’s dealt in recent years with challenges including leaks of its data. The NBS in the past has defended its calculation of inflation and how that affects its real gross domestic product estimates.

“There’s reason to believe that the quality of data coming out of China will improve over time," according to a report last month by the investment management division of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which cited China’s move toward meeting International Monetary Fund standards for disseminating data. "In the meantime, however, we remain circumspect about the quality of its reporting."

Just days before Wang’s investigation was announced, he personally defended the veracity of NBS data released in January that showed economic output grew 6.9 percent in 2015. “The GDP we published is genuine and credible,” he said at a press conference after the data release, citing tax data that support the readings and the size of his survey team.

Private economists have pointed to continuing discrepancies between the national growth calculations and estimates from individual provinces that, added together, would exceed the total size of the economy. Li, himself a Ph.D. economist, has been cited as a critic of Chinese economic data. GDP data are "man-made" and therefore unreliable, Li said in 2007, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks.

— With assistance by Jeff Kearns

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.