China blocks data from being published

Aug 17, 2023, 2:01pm EDT
China economy
REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
Diego Mendoza/

China is clamping down on publishing crucial data, raising alarms both domestically and internationally about the state of the country.

The head of the National Energy Administration on Wednesday urged his bureaucrats to better manage confidential documents and heighten secrecy. His announcement comes just days after Beijing said it would no longer publish youth unemployment data after it reached consecutive record highs.

China restricting energy data "bellies such a a weird lack of confidence"1 writes Jeremey Wallace, a Cornell University professor of Chinese politics. While the country remains one of the biggest polluters, experts agree that China's economic strategies serve as a model of how to create a clean technology giant.2 "China's energy transition is an incredible story that they should be shouting from the rooftops not hiding from websites!" Wallace posted.

China is broadening the “surface for confrontation”3 with the U.S. over energy policy by restricting information sharing, writes analyst John Kemp. While both the U.S. and China tout efforts to normalize relations, it is clear that the U.S. putting up trade barriers and China clamping down on its data means the countries "view each other as an existential threat to national security.” By censoring energy data, China is hampering its contribution to the global reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

"It's natural to feel alarmed"4 about China censoring data on its youth unemployment and deteriorating economy, writes analyst Amber Zhang. While the post-COVID rebound of tourism, catering, and other blue-collar industries has boosted the recovery for young people without a college degree, Zhang said the outlook for college graduates is less positive, given that sectors which hire them, like real estate and information technology, are still showing “tepid increase in job postings” owing to a liquidity crunch.

"Withholding the data will only aggravate the market’s concerns about the health of the economy,"5 a director of a Beijing-based boutique investment bank said. The move to censor unemployment data does not give confidence to foreign investors who Beijing wants to attract to revive its flagging economy and combat the deflation trend. If deflation continues, the drop in demand for goods from China will impact global company profits and result in unemployment outside China.6 Domestically too, the public is losing confidence in the government, with one Weibo user remarking, “If the data isn’t good, then there’s no data."7