Silencing bad news won't help China's economy

Nikkei Asian Review | 8/7/2019 | Staff
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Shortly after the Chinese New Year holiday in February, the People's Daily, the Communist Party's flagship newspaper, reported with a celebratory tone that domestic retail and restaurant spending during the festival had topped 1 trillion yuan ($145 billion) for the first time.

Against the backdrop of the trade war with the U.S., this result "defied doomsayers," the paper said, and continued a string of annual gains in consumer prowess that showed China's sustained economic strength.

Media - Reports - Year - Contrasting - Picture

Foreign media reports this year, however, have been portraying a starkly contrasting picture of Chinese economic slowdown as seen in declining gross domestic product growth rates, falling car sales and record low industrial output expansion.

The gap between these two images of China's economy is due to Beijing's extensive system of media censorship and controls, which has only tightened further in recent months.

May - Media - Coverage - News - US

In early May, Chinese media initially provided no coverage of the news that U.S. President Donald Trump had tweeted that he would soon raise import tariffs because China was "attempt[ing] to renegotiate" terms of its pending trade agreement with Washington. Censors deleted posts about the tweets from Chinese social media.

Yet even the vaunted Great Firewall of China could not seal off the nation entirely from word of the sudden reversal in momentum of the trade talks. The Shanghai stock market tumbled 5.6% that day, its worst showing in three years, as traders and investors around the country exchanged rumors about what Trump had said.

Beijing - Eyes - Truth - Things - Country

In Beijing's eyes, allowing the truth through might have made things even worse. Since the country embarked on its strategy of reform 40 years ago, the legitimacy of Communist Party rule has come to depend on an image of robust economic performance.

For the regime, news is propaganda and must serve the party's needs above all.

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