China congress: Beijing delays key economic figures as leaders meet

China has delayed the release of its latest economic growth figures, which were due to be published as the Communist Party’s leadership gathers.

President Xi Jinping is expected to be confirmed for a historic third-term at this week’s party congress in Beijing.

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) did not give a reason for the delay.

The decision has been described as “very rare” by experts and is seen by some as a sign of further weakness in the world’s second largest economy.

However, Zhao Chenxin, deputy head of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, said on Monday that the country’s economy had “picked up significantly in the third quarter”.

“Globally China’s economic performance also remains outstanding. Consumer prices have risen modestly, in sharp contrast to the high global inflation, and employment remained generally stable,” he told a news conference.

According to an updated NBS calendar, publication of several key economic indictors on Tuesday, including third quarter gross domestic product (GDP), had been “postponed”.

A new date for the release of the figures has yet to be scheduled.

NBS did not immediately respond to a BBC request for comment.

Pushan Dutt, an economics professor at INSEAD university, told the BBC the delay was a “very rare event” as the Chinese government had released data as scheduled through the pandemic.

“My only guess is that those numbers were not very good and would not lead to the objective of doubling the Chinese economy in the timespan that President Xi announced,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dan Wang, chief economist at Hang Seng Bank China, believes “the delay may not necessarily be because of disappointing economic data”.

“The normal procedure of signing off those data might have been disrupted as all top leadership are occupied during the pandemic,” she said.

Mr Xi signalled on Sunday that there would be no immediate loosening of his controversial zero-Covid strategy, which has weighed on China’s economic growth.

GDP measures the size of an economy. Gauging its expansion or contraction is one of the most important ways of measuring how well or badly an economy is performing and is closely watched by economists and central banks.

China previously indicated that it may miss its annual economic growth target of 5.5%.

The Politburo – the ruling Communist Party’s top policy-making body – did not mention the official growth target in a statement after its quarterly policy meeting in July. Instead it said it aimed to keep growth within “a reasonable range”.

Iris Pang, Greater China chief economist at ING Bank, said she expects that China’s third-quarter GDP data would “not paint an optimistic picture”.

“This data delay shows that the government thinks that 20th Party Congress is the most important thing happening in China, and would like to avoid other information that could create mixed messages to the market,” she told the BBC.

  

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