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China fought against data showing economy may overtake US as world’s biggest


By Jamil Anderlini in Beijing and David Pilling in Hong Kong

China fought for a year to undermine new data showing that it is poised to usurp the US as the world’s biggest economy in 2014 based on purchasing power, according to people who helped compile the report.

The report, released this week by the International Comparison Programme under the auspices of the World Bank, stated that the “National Bureau of Statistics of China has expressed reservations about some aspects of the methodology”.

Beijing has declined to publish the headline number for China and the report said that the NBS “does not endorse the results as official statistics”.

But those involved in compiling the data say China’s distaste for the findings went further.

“A year ago, there was a huge debate. China wanted to throw this out. They don’t want to be seen as number one. They’re worried about the political implications with the US,” said one person involved in preparing the report. “They begged and threatened for a whole year . . . China hates it,” he said.

The main reason for China’s lack of triumphalism is that leaders do not want exposure to the international pressure that comes with being the world’s largest economy, according to people familiar with Chinese official views on the matter.

“They certainly don’t want to overstate the size of their economy. They are sensitive about that,” said Vinod Thomas, director-general of independent evaluation at the Asian Development Bank, which played a role in compiling Chinese statistics for the report. “The pushback and sensitivity has been muted publicly but, behind the scenes, it’s been there for sure.”

China’s state media did not mention the latest estimates. Beijing has often balked at international estimates showing that it has taken the global lead in everything from carbon emissions to energy use.

Taking the title as the world’s largest economy, held by the US since 1872, might be seen as a crowning achievement after three decades of rapid economic growth. However, China’s leaders are wary of the added international responsibility that could come with it.

“On a per-capita basis, China is still a very poor country so it does not want to be asked to do too much on the international stage – at least not yet,” said an adviser to Chinese ­policy makers. (FT)

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