05/04/2022, 15.00
CHINA
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Censors silence well-known economist after he warns of slow growth

Hong Hao, head of research at a state financial institution, has had his WeChat account frozen and his Weibo account taken down. He had warned of capital flight and the negative performance of the Chinese stock market. Pandemic, crackdown on hi-tech giants, real estate bubbles, and the Russian-Ukrainian war threaten the country's economy.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Hong Hao, a prominent economist, has been censored. For weeks, he has been warning that China’s economy is about to slow down.

Hong is head of research at BOCOM International, the investment arm of China’s state-owned Bank of Communications, one of the country’s largest financial institutions.

Some of his recent posts highlighted capital flight from China accompanied by gloomy forecasts for the country’s stock market. Now his voice on Chinese social media has been silenced.

WeChat, a messaging service, froze his account, claiming that he had breached government internet rules. Weibo went further and took down his account, which had more than three million followers; it now reads the user “no longer exists”.

China’s economy has been struggling recently, especially after the latest COVID-19 outbreaks and related lockdowns, government crackdown on hi-tech giants, real estate bubbles, and the impact of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Despite criticism that the “zero-COVID” policy has imposed an excessive burden on ordinary people and businesses, Chinese President Xi Jinping seems bent on pursuing it. By contrast, he seems more open to hi-tech companies, hit recently by a series of anti-trust measures.

With the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China scheduled for this fall, Xi needs to prop up the economy to avoid any last minute surprises and secure a third, historic mandate.

In the first quarter, GDP grew by 4.8 per cent on an annual basis, far below the target of 5.5 per cent set for 2022; however, some China watchers suggests the reality is much worse.

According to Bloomberg, some Western research firms believe that the real growth is around 2.4 per cent. In fact, many observers, especially outside China, have long questioned the reliability of China’s official data, which are almost always positive.

Such concerns are indirectly confirmed by Chinese authorities. In December, the government went after the provinces accusing them of providing phoney and inflated economic data.

In November 2020, Premier Li Keqiang ordered local leaders to “tell the truth” about the economic state of the jurisdictions they administer.

For China’s leaders, this is only way to achieve their goals: create more jobs, stimulate private spending, and boost investment.

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