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China withholds, manipulates, falsifies official data

The Communist Party of China (CPC) exhibits a pattern of deliberate withholding, manipulation, and falsification of official government data designed to restrict information to outside observers and artificially inflate its reputation and global standing, revealed the China Transparency Report 2024 by Washington-based think tank The Heritage Foundation (THF).

Richard Drury, GettyImagesmages

“While some data can be verified with some accuracy, such as trade figures or military assets, the CPC deliberately restricts a wide range of data,” Andrés Harding, research assistant at THF Asian Studies Center and one of the report’s authors, told Diálogo on March 12. “This is especially true with human rights information as the CPC attempts to cover up, for example, its genocide of Muslim minorities in the Uyghur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang.”

Researchers identified this deliberate pattern in eight key sectors: economy, influence operations, military, overseas investment, politics, technology, energy, and environment. While they stress that all government administrations face transparency challenges, the difficulties presented by the CPC are “particularly alarming.”

“The nature of the Chinese communist system exacerbates the lack of transparency. Because control is its top priority, the CPC benefits from suppressing data that does not match its narratives,” the report said.

Researchers found that the CPC intentionally restricts public access to political and economic data, so that observers rely more on speculation and unsubstantiated reports from supposed “party members” talking to the media.

When investors were hoping for more clarity on China’s economic roadmap to 2024, the head of China’s economy, Premier Li Qiang, canceled the annual press conference at the close of the National People’s Congress session. This is the first time this has happened in 30 years, closing the only moderately free space for journalists to talk to the top Chinese official, Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reported on March 4.

“The Chinese government publishes fewer statistics, census data, and policy documents, becoming less and less transparent not only to its domestic audience, but also to foreign analysts,” Kara Němečková, an analyst with China Observers in Central and Eastern Europe, a think tank that monitors Chinese activities from Prague, Czech Republic, told Diálogo. “Beijing’s restriction of access to information is related to the trend toward securitization, where more and more issues are subject to national security.”

Another area where THF identifies serious gaps in the data provided by Beijing relates to influence operations. These seek to modify popular perceptions through a wide variety of tools, ranging from social networks and cultural programs to military psychological operations, Argentine news site Infobae reported.

CPC influence operations may be more focused on nations where there is limited access to international media and significant exposure to Chinese state media and its affiliates, THF notes. As such, researchers believe it is critical to help those countries counter Chinese influence as they carry weight in the context of multilateral agreements.

In exploring the environmental issue, China stands out for having missed its target to reduce highly harmful gases for the planet by 2023. Its energy activity increased carbon emissions by 5.2, revealed a February 22 report by Carbon Brief, a United Kingdom environmental think tank.

“While China claims to be a world leader on environmental issues, our report points out how China understates its coal consumption in its official government statistics and continues to build new coal-fired power plants,” Harding says. “This approach is part of the CPC’s strategy to present itself as a global partner, when in fact it is contributing, in large part, to the problems it claims to be trying to solve.”

“China controls the narrative and its image abroad,” adds Němečková. “For example, Beijing restricts information when it presents an unflattering picture of its economy and development prospects.”

The lack of transparency that permeates foreign investments from China is also a cause for concern as, according to THF, they serve to achieve the CPC’s goals. Here they highlight the case of Huawei, whose technologies pose significant security risks, as it gives the CPC access to critical systems.

One of the most recent countries to stop its participation in tenders for the development of 5G was Costa Rica, as China is not a signatory to the convention on cybercrime known as the Budapest Convention, Costa Rican media CRHoy reported on March 9.

“There is concern about the prospect of China accessing personal data on computers and cell phones, monitoring through television circuits, and meddling with smart devices in homes,” Tenzin Dalha, a researcher at the India-based think tank Tibet Policy Institute, wrote in Cuban news site 14 y medio. “China is perfecting a vast network of real-time sensor technologies such as drones, remote sensing, and GPS location, along with data mining and the implementation of a new social credit system. These technologies endow the state with unprecedented surveillance powers.”

“Whether it’s energy and environment, or economics and human rights, the CPC is extremely deliberate about what information it makes available and what information it suppresses,” Dalha emphasized. “Make no mistake. The CPC’s withholding, manipulation, and falsification of data is deliberate.”

China Transparency Report


The Heritage Foundation’s 2024 China Transparency Report assesses the current state of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) forthcomingness on eight key issues. It does so by analyzing the data, or lack thereof, provided by the Chinese government, and highlights measures by private organizations and researchers to fill in the (very wide) gaps using open-source data.

Why is transparency important? The report addresses this question for each of eight categories: (1) the economy, (2) energy and the environment, (3) human rights, (4) influence operations, (5) the military, (6) outbound investments, (7) politics and law, and (8) technology.

Broadly speaking, transparency is important because the Chinese government has a history of withholding, manipulating, and falsifying data for its own purposes. As U.S. policymakers address the China challenge, access to reliable data becomes increasingly important. Reliable data help to provide accurate assessments of China’s capabilities, expose areas in which China poses the greatest threat to U.S. interests, and examine where threats may be overstated or vulnerabilities may be exploited.

While the editors of the report acknowledge that virtually all governments have some transparency issues, the Chinese government’s lack of transparency is alarming on two fronts.

  • First, the nature of the Chinese communist system exacerbates the lack of transparency. Because control is its utmost priority, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) benefits from repressing data that do not fall in line with its narratives.

  • Second, the U.S.‐China competition and the policies made today will have consequences for generations to come. As such, it is critical that U.S. policymakers have access to accurate data to create sound policy.

The report is not a comprehensive review of every available transparency initiative: It is a survey of the field. The project seeks to raise awareness about ongoing private efforts and their methodologies while identifying areas with additional research needs. The editors hope that this report will encourage not only more data-driven analysis within the policy community but also cross-fertilization between categories.

While the focus of the report is primarily on private, non-governmental research, governmental agencies are instrumental in data collection as well. Unless stated otherwise, The Heritage Foundation does not claim ownership of the data projects mentioned in this report.

In addition to an assessment of the eight categories, this report also features six topical essays primarily written by external authors:

  • “‘Exert a Crushing Blow’: Beijing’s Strategy of Gradual Genocide in Xinjiang,” by Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation Senior Fellow and Director in China Studies Adrian Zenz, PhD. This essay examines the details and intent behind Beijing’s policies of mass internment and draconian birth prevention measures in its northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Based on new evidence from classified internal state documents, this essay argues that Beijing is intent on targeting Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in ways that constitute a gradually unfolding genocide. There is an abiding need to promote transparency with respect to the CCP’s efforts to curtail human rights.

  • “In Sight, Out of Mind: Shortcomings in Safeguarding the Defense Industrial Base from China,” by Hudson Institute Senior Fellow and former U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy Nadia Schadlow, PhD, and Heritage Research Assistant Andrew J. Harding. After analyzing nine annual Industrial Capabilities Reports to Congress from fiscal years 2013 through 2021, this essay argues that the Department of Defense has consistently reported many of the same vulnerabilities to the defense industrial base but has proven unable to address or remedy them. China has, therefore, been able to both cause and exploit vulnerabilities, ranging from establishing domain market shares over important products and resources to becoming the sole supplier for essential compounds needed for munition production. Unless the U.S. Department of Defense makes meaningful, transparent progress on resolving vulnerabilities, it will not deliver the necessary results needed to reorient America’s defense posture and safeguard American interests.

  • “Chinese Influence Strategies Are Putting the Pacific Islands on the Front Line—Again,” by Foundation for Defense of Democracies non-resident Senior Fellow Cleo Paskal. This essay investigates Chinese malign influence campaigns in the Pacific Islands region at a time when U.S. influence in the region is waning relative to China. While the U.S. aims to reengage with the region, China’s years-long campaign to enhance its influence and access have granted it growing leverage in the region. The Solomon Islands serve as a notable case study for understanding Chinese strategy in the region. The essay offers recommendations for the U.S. and Pacific Island countries to counter Chinese political warfare and improve engagement efforts.

  • “China and the COVID Data Crisis,” by Professor and Director of The Hanlon Financial Systems Center at The Stevens Institute of Technology George Calhoun, PhD. This essay surveys the data gaps and distortions created by China’s systematic suppression of COVID-related information and reviews independent estimates of the true impact of the pandemic in terms of infection and mortality in the Chinese population. COVID impacted China much worse than was portrayed in official statistics, and China has suppressed key and even basic data surrounding the true impact of COVID within China. Beijing’s deliberate coverup has imposed terrible costs—not just on the rest of the world—but on its own citizens.

  • “How Wall Street Funds China’s Rise,” by President & CEO of the American Securities Association and former special counsel to a U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commissioner and the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services Christopher A. Iacovella. This essay argues that Beijing has used the openness of the international financial and economic system to increase its global influence and amass leverage over the United States and its allies, resulting in a world that is less open and more authoritarian. This includes military, cyber, and geopolitical strategies aimed at undermining U.S. economic and national security. China could not have done this without the active and willing support of international investors—particularly those in the United States.

  • “How One Man-Rule Renders Chinese Policymaking as Opaque—and Ineffectual—as Ever,” by Jamestown Foundation Senior Fellow and adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong Willy Wo-Lap Lam, PhD. This essay argues that General Secretary Xi Jinping’s prioritization of personal loyalty over established conventions has caused the CCP to make controversial policy decisions—and risks complicating future policy goals and political stability. With Xi forming a personality cult, as well as the restitution of Maoist leadership practices, Chinese policymaking and policy execution are even more non-transparent and non-democratic than was the case under Xi’s predecessors.

Source Dialogo Americas
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