When the Shanghai stock market fell at the beginning of the year, markets in London and New York shook.
When China showed official numbers that its economic growth rate might falter, economists around the globe talked of dire financial consequences around the world.
And yet, anyone who has spent any time dealing with the China and its government would know — or should know — that the numbers released by the Chinese government are always suspect and the Chinese stock markets are about as transparent as a block of onyx.
Rule one in dealing with the Chinese government is that all things must be bent to serve the official line. If the official position is that China will have a 7 percent growth in GDP, then the appropriate government agencies must ensure the numbers they put out show at least that level. (A 6.9 percent growth is not acceptable, because it is not at least seven.)
And now Wang Bao’an, director of the National Bureau of Statistics is under investigation for “serious violations of party discipline.” That phrase is veiled code for corruption.
As Charles Riley at CNN noted, this calls into question the data presented by Wang:
The…announcement, which is bound to raise new questions about the accuracy of Beijing’s economic statistics, came just hours after Wang briefed reporters on the state of China’s economy.
China Digital Times notes economist Xu Dianqing, of Beijing Normal University and the University of West Ontario, has raised doubts about China’s official growth rate for some time. According to Xu’s calculations, the real rate is between 4.3 percent 5.2 percent, not the official growth rate of 6.9 percent for 2015.
Granted, the investigation against Wang may not be related to his current job but may involve other activities during his 24 years in the finance ministry.
Yes, the Chinese government and ruling party (one in the same) are moving on corrupt officials. It would be nice to say that they are doing this because it is the right thing and that corruption is bad. Instead, the move seems more motivated to prevent a popular uprising against the ruling party.
China ranks 83 out of 168 on the perceived corruption index of Transparency International. (The higher the number, the more corrupt.) And we all know that China ranks near the bottom for political, social and media freedom.
The Communist Party holds onto its power largely because it promises the people of China a better life. If that better life is stalled or blocked by corrupt officials, the people see fewer reasons to support the party. If people are hurt or damaged by shoddy workmanship in infrastructure projects or public buildings because of corruption, there is less support for the government.
By moving against corrupt officials, the government wants to show that it is “doing the people’s will” by rooting out the (few) bad influences in power. The problem is that an anti-democratic, free-press bashing government by its very nature is a breading ground for corruption. There are no independent checks on abusive government officials. The Chinese government only tends to move against corrupt officials after the corruption is so blatant as to cause social unrest.
So China is corrupt. What does that mean for the average American.
For starters, look at the first two paragraphs of this entry. The world’s economy went into a tailspin because of activities in a country that regularly cooks the books and that has no resources to independently check the factual nature of its economic numbers.
Jobs in the United States are put at risk when China falters.
Yes, the U.S. buys more from China than it sells, but in the past few years the exports to China have been growing. Until the Chinese economy started to hesitate.
Exports to China were on a steady growth pattern for the past decade. January-November exports to China rose from $37 billion in 2005 to $109 billion in 2014. Then, last year, that number slipped to $106 billion. In fact, 2015 showed a marked decline month-on-month in exports to China.
Unlike what we import from China, what we sell is high-end aircraft parts, machinery and electronic equipment. These are products made with high-wage labor. A reduction in sales of these types of products overseas could mean more people forced to take lower-paid jobs and, therefore, contributing less to the American economy.
So, a handful of experts were keeping an eye on the situation in China. And occasionally there would be a story about the status of the Chinese economy. There would also be stories about how the changes in the Chinese economy affect trade with the United States. But where were the stories that showed how the Chinese economic changes impacted individual Americans?
How difficult would it be for a local reporter in Seattle or South Carolina to ask the local Boeing factory how sales to China were going? Along with the expected follow-up of, “What does it mean to local production and employment?”
Or maybe for a local reporter in Galveston, Tex., to ask about how chemical sales are doing with China. (Yes, they are also down.)
Or even a reporter from Louisiana to call the New Orleans Port Authority to make inquiries about how shipments to and from China are doing.
Or how about a reporter along the Mississippi River asking how grain sales are doing to the rest of the world — and China in particular?
Had any of these inquiries been made and followed through, perhaps there would have been less shock about the slow down in China. People would not have been happy about the slow down, but at least they would have understood what was happening and why.
And the last time I looked, explaining what happened and why is part of the job description of being a jorunalist.