Top Chinese official says some economic data 'man-made'

BEIJING, December  7, 2010 (AFP) - Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang, widely tipped to be the next premier, admitted in 2007 that some of the country's economic data was "man-made" and thus unreliable, leaked US diplomatic cables show.

Li -- whom analysts expect will succeed Premier Wen Jiabao in the coming years -- was the top Communist Party official in the northeastern province of Liaoning when he made the remarks to then-US ambassador Clark Randt.

When evaluating the province's economy, Li said he focused on three figures -- electricity consumption, volume of rail cargo and the amount of loans issued, a confidential memo released by whistleblower website WikiLeaks said.

"By looking at these three figures, Li said he can measure with relative accuracy the speed of economic growth," the cable said.

"All other figures, especially GDP statistics, are 'for reference only,' he said, smiling."

If Li succeeds Wen as expected in 2013, he will be responsible for the day-to-day running of government as well as economic policy in the world's second-largest economy.

During the dinner in Beijing, Li mainly focused on the challenges of administering the province and trade relations between the United States and China, which he described as "developing smoothly".

Li said the income gaps in Liaoning "remain severe" despite official statistics showing the province recorded "brisk economic growth of... 12.8 percent in 2006".

"GDP figures are 'man-made' and therefore unreliable, Li said," according to the leaked notes of the dinner.

Analysts have long questioned the reliability of data provided by local government officials in China, whose career prospects depend on the pace of economic growth in their region -- giving them an incentive to beef up figures.

WikiLeaks has released 250,000 US diplomatic cables, embarrassing a number of US allies and foes.

China's foreign ministry has refused to comment on individual cables that make reference to Beijing, describing the content of the website as "absurd".

Some of the documents contained allegations that China may have turned a blind eye to illicit exports of North Korean missile parts and that the top Chinese leadership orchestrated cyberattacks on Google and other US targets.

In one cable, Chinese officials are quoted as calling the erratic regime in Pyongyang -- China's close ally -- a "spoiled child".