For several years now, I’ve periodically observed that China’s increasingly aggressive crackdown on dissent serves as a harbinger of far more difficult times ahead. The thinking goes that if anyone is privy to the severe fragility of the country’s economic situation, it would be Chinese leadership. As such, desperate moves by Chinese leadership should foretell drastically worse economic and social conditions.
The scramble to crack down on dissent has become so intense, Chinese authorities seem to be now exerting illegal force against residents of Hong Kong. Of course, this story is long in the making, as the massive protest that broke out a little over a year ago known as the “umbrella revolution,” was in fact a protest against Beijing’s moves to ensure that Hong Kong leadership remain loyal puppets to the authorities on the mainland.
When it comes to the Chinese economy, you can always tell how bad the situation is based on the panicky actions of the authorities. If the latest moves are any indication, things are not getting any better.
BEIJING — This month, Chinese banking officials omitted currency data from closely watched economic reports.
Just weeks earlier, Chinese regulators fined a journalist $23,000 for reposting a message that said a big securities firm had told elite clients to sell stock.
Before that, officials pressed two companies to stop releasing early results from a survey of Chinese factories that often moved markets.
Chinese leaders are taking increasingly bold steps to stop rising pessimism about turbulent markets and the slowing of the country’s growth. As financial and economic troubles threaten to undermine confidence in the Communist Party, Beijing is tightening the flow of economic information and even criminalizing commentary that officials believe could hurt stocks or the currency.
But the tightly scripted story makes it ever more difficult to get information needed to gauge the extent of the country’s slowdown, analysts say. “Data disappears when it becomes negative,” said Anne Stevenson-Yang, co-founder of J Capital Research, which analyzes the Chinese economy.
“We are going to continue to see crackdowns on people telling a different story than what Beijing wants to hear,” Mr. Miller said. “At the same time, Beijing appears to be conflicted on this issue, because it recognizes that without independent gauges, commercial relations and foreign direct investment will suffer, due to growing skepticism over official data.”
In January data released last week, the Chinese central bank omitted or hidone key number and altered the parameters of another that gave insight into what the central and commercial banks were doing to prop up the country’s currency.
Ms. Stevenson-Yang, of J Capital Research, said she and her colleagues had seen growing discrepancies in official data in the last two years in a variety of sectors, including retail, shipping and steel production. She said a colleague had once called a Chinese cement factory to ask for production data, and a factory employee had thought the researcher was calling from a government-affiliated research association. The employee told the researcher that the factory had already changed its numbers twice and would rather not do it again, so the researcher could choose any number that fit.
Jon R. Carnes, founder of Eos Funds, a firm best known for bets that Chinese stock prices will fall, said China is in the midst of a down cycle in a long-running ebb and flow of public information. In 2012, a researcher for the fund, Kun Huang, was put in prison for two years for gathering information that led Eos Funds to bet against a Chinese mining company.
Buckle in for the hard landing.
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