Li Keqiang, head of the Communist Party in northeastern Liaoning province at the time, was unusually candid in his assessment of local economic data at a dinner with then-U.S. Ambassador to China Clark Randt, according to a confidential memo sent after the meeting and published on the WikiLeaks website.
The U.S. cable reported that Li, who is now a vice premier, focused on just three data points to evaluate Liaoning’s economy: electricity consumption, rail cargo volume and bank lending.
“By looking at these three figures, Li said he can measure with relative accuracy the speed of economic growth. All other figures, especially GDP statistics, are ‘for reference only,’ he said smiling,” the cable added.
Li is widely expected to succeed Wen Jiabao as premier in early 2013, a position that will put him in charge of policy making in the world’s second-biggest economy.
A news official in the Chinese foreign ministry declined to comment on the specific cable and referred to comments last week in which a ministry spokesman called on the United States to resolve issues related to the leaks.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy to China was not immediately available.
Chinese economic numbers, especially at the provincial level and lower, have long been viewed with suspicion by analysts.
“That China’s GDP is not reliable, especially for local GDP, that is nothing new,” said an economist with a foreign bank who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of discussing top national leaders.