China¡¯s Technical Cooperation in Statistics: Past and Future
National Bureau of Statistics of China
Since 1979 when its economic reform program was launched, China has experienced extensive and profound changes in both economic and social areas.
In the past 25 years, China has established its initial structure of the socialist market economy where the market mechanism has started to play a leading role; China¡¯s economy has achieved a rapid growth with an average annual rate of over 9%; China has become the first largest developing country of incoming FDI in the world for two years and the fourth largest in foreign trade which imply that China¡¯s economy has got integrated with the world economy; and China¡¯s private economy has been expanding very rapidly while the public economy is growing as well.
In the past 25 years, the living standards of the Chinese people have improved while the poverty population has reduced by a large margin; China has made great progress in education, culture, health and other social fields; the birth rate and natural growth rate of its population have been declining while the life expectancy has been rising; and the population migration between the urban and rural areas and among different regions have become normal.
However, China¡¯s development is faced with great challenges as well. The worsening of natural environment is not controlled, sustainable and harmonized development is far from realized; unemployment and potential unemployment exist in large amounts which create a serious pressure to the economic and social stability; and the imbalanced development and income distribution among different groups of population and between different regions are expanding.
In order to maintain a rapid, steady, sustainable and harmonized development in both economic and social areas and solve the existing problems in China¡¯s development, the Chinese government has made a development program towards an ¡°Overall Well-off Society¡± which corresponds to the UN Millennium Development Goals.
In this context, China¡¯s statistical system is faced with two major challenges: The first one is to transform itself into a system which follows the general practice under the market economy so as to meet the requirements; and the second is to join the international statistical community in exploring solutions to the new problems.
When starting its economic reform program 25 years ago, China did not know how to draw the picture of the economic and social development under the market economy. During the past 25 year, China has learnt some knowledge of drawing the picture with China¡¯s particular conditions though the picture is not very accurate. In the future, China is determined to accurately draw and present the picture. The advancement from ¡°little knowledge¡± to ¡°some knowledge¡± and further to ¡°good knowledge¡± and from ¡°little application¡± to ¡°some application¡± and further to ¡°good application¡± is the road that China¡¯s statistical system has walked along and will walk along. Technical cooperation and own efforts are the two wheels of the vehicle.
This paper will focus on the technical cooperation between China and its partners, which is composed of four components:
• Main historical development;
• Main achievements;
• Main guiding principles; and
• Main orientations in the future.
I. Main Historical Development in China¡¯s Technical Cooperation in Statistics
China¡¯s statistical system remained ¡°closed¡± until 1979. The objective of the system was to exclusively meet the requirements of the planned economy for the checking of the implementation of the plans of the central and local governments; the data were colleted and compiled at local offices and then submitted to higher levels with no sample surveys needed; China followed the MPS system which was applied in the planned economies and made strict distinctions between the material productive sphere and non-material productive sphere; and the statistical products were regarded as the nation¡¯s secrets and not allowed to publish without authorization. Under such circumstances, China did not participate in any international events related to statistics and undertook no cooperative or exchange activities with international organizations or national statistical offices.
China¡¯s economic reform program from 1979 not only opened the way to the economic development and international integration, but also provided a basis for the transformation of China¡¯s statistics and an environment for China¡¯s technical cooperation in statistics with others. On the one hand, the change of China¡¯s economic system towards market economy requested China¡¯s statistical system to adapt itself to the change, measure and assess the process and results of the change with a new system, new methodology and new tools. On the other hand, the reform program cultivated a new eye that China¡¯s statistical system should cast to the experience and practice in statistics in the world. The former explained the necessity of China¡¯s technical cooperation in statistics while the latter provided the possibility for the cooperation.
The first landmark technical cooperation project was initiated for China¡¯s 1982 population census. The census, the first one after 18 years, started its preparations in 1979 and was widely supported by international organizations and some national statistical offices. The UNDP and UNFPA donated a total amount of 15.59 million US dollars, mainly used to purchase computers and other equipment for data processing and the US government issued a special export permit for the equipment. The two UN agencies and UN Statistics Division dispatched specialists to China for comprehensive guidance over the census. China sent missions to Canada, Germany, Italy and other countries to study country cases. The international statistical community made high comments on the success of the census. The international technical cooperation was one of the critical elements for the successful census taking.
In the 1980s, China¡¯s statistics started its bilateral technical cooperation and exchange activities. The National Bureau of Statistics of China reached cooperation agreements with Japan¡¯s Statistics Bureau in 1980, with US Census Bureau in 1984 and with Statistics Canada in 1985. Those cooperation activities helped China¡¯s statistics study the experience in those countries and apply the experience directly in China¡¯s statistics. The World Bank, IMF, Asian Development Bank and other international and regional organizations also provided financial and other kinds of assistance to the NBS in the 1980s for various kinds of technical cooperation projects. The main achievements during the period included the adoption of China¡¯s first legislation Statistics Act in 1984 which provided the legal framework for China¡¯s statistics; the first publication of the Statistical Yearbook in 1982 which made comprehensive and systematic statistical information available for the public; and the shift from the MPS system to the SNA system in the late 1980s after a long period of debate among the Chinese statisticians and economists.
In the 1990s and first years of this century, China¡¯s statistics continued its technical cooperation with international organizations and national statistical offices in order to achieve more extensive experience for the development of China¡¯s statistics required for the socialist market economy. The NBS established fruitful cooperative relationship with FAO, Italy¡¯s Central Statistical Institute, France¡¯s Institute for Economic Studies and Statistics, the Statistical Office of the European Community, the National Statistical Office of Korea, the Statistical Office of the Ministry of Agriculture of Korea, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Statistics New Zealand, Statistics Sweden, Statistics Norway, the Statistics Directorate of the OECD and other statistical offices. FAO, the Italian Government and Italy¡¯s Central Statistical Institute provided a total amount of 11.298 million US dollars as technical assistance for China to conduct its first agricultural census in 1997. The technical assistance from those partners helped China¡¯s statistics develop in many areas such as national accounts, subject-matter statistics, data collection, and data processing.
It should be specially pointed out that the technical cooperation between the NBS and Statistics Canada, Federal Statistical Office of Germany and IMF was of great importance to China¡¯s statistical development. In 1996, the NBS and Statistics Canada started their implementation of the 7-year Statistical Information Management Program (SIMP) under the governmental arrangements by Canadian International Development Agency and China¡¯s Ministry of Commerce. The Canadian Government made an input of 9.9 million Canadian dollars to the Program. The SIMP attached great importance to the policy and management issues and helped China¡¯s statistics improve its comprehensive development in the areas of legal enforcement, policy relevance assessment, priority setting, internal and external coordination, resources allocation and data dissemination. In 1996 again, the NBS and Federal Statistical Office of Germany started their implementation of a multi-phased Project on the Reorganization of Industrial and Road Transport Statistics in China. The project was coordinated by the Germany¡¯s Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and German Technical Cooperation Company for the German side and China¡¯s Ministry of Commerce for the Chinese side. The project was funded by the German Government with a total amount of 5 million DM. This project attempted to make a reform of China¡¯s industrial and transport statistics, set up an example for the reform in other subject-matter areas and eventually push forward the reform and development of the entire statistical system in China. The China-Germany project specially emphasized on the communication between data producers and data users and on the decisive role to be played by the users. The technical cooperation between the NBS and IMF focused on the incorporation of China¡¯s statistics into the General Data Dissemination System (GDDS), trying to improve China¡¯s statistical system from the perspective of dissemination by improving the coordination and transparency of China¡¯s statistics, and improving the credibility and accessibility of China¡¯s statistics. China joined in the GDDS system on April 15, 2002.
II. Main Achievements in China¡¯s Technical Cooperation in Statistics
In the past 25 years, China has taken a number of important steps in reforming its statistics, and the international experience can be seen, to some extent, in both the initiation and implementation of those steps. The reform of China¡¯s statistics is comprehensive, systematic, profound and sustained. Some of the main achievements are summarized as follows:
First of all, China¡¯s statistics has achieved the shift of ideas. The establishment and improvement of China¡¯s socialist market economy requires the continued reform and development of the statistical system. The official statistics in other countries and especially in developed market economies has experienced the exploration and practice for more than one or two centuries and gained rich experience. Such experience is of great importance to guiding the reform and development of China¡¯s statistics. China¡¯s international technical cooperation in statistics has helped China know how to develop statistics in a market economy. The benefits from technical cooperation in turn has encouraged China¡¯s statistics to further get involved in international technical cooperation.
Second, China¡¯s statistics has achieved the shift from closed statistics to open statistics. Statistical services have extended their availability from the decision-making authorities in the government to research institutions, news media, enterprises, the public and international users as well. The publication of statistics has not only helped us understand China itself better, but also helped the world know China better. Statistical information is no longer the only privileges for the decision-making authorities of the Chinese government, but rather, the common wealth of the entire society.
Third, China¡¯s statistics has achieved the shift from the rules by people to the rules by law. China adopted the first Statistics Act in 1984 and revised it in 1996 according to the requirements of the social and economic development. The Statistics Act included the extensive experience of many countries of the world in many aspects. At present, China¡¯s legislature is considering the Census Act in order to better conduct its first economic census in 2004 and regulate other censuses. When drafting the Census Act, China has made in-depth studies of the census acts of the United Kingdom, United States, Singapore, Australia and other countries.
Fourth, China has achieved the shift from the MPS system to SNA system. In the late 1980s, China introduced the UN-recommended SNA and has now completed the transfer to the 1993 version. The shift helps meet the requirements of the development of China¡¯s socialist market economy and of international comparisons.
Fifth, China¡¯s statistics has achieved the shift from domestic standards to international standards. China¡¯s statistics has introduced national industrial classifications, product classification, trade classifications and other classifications based on the classifications and standards recognized in the world. The concepts and definitions used in China¡¯s statistics for the planned economy have gradually been replaced with those required by the market economy. These changes have helped improve the comparability of the data produced among various agencies within the government and of the data between China and other countries.
Sixth, China¡¯s statistics has achieved the shift from the traditional report system to other data collection methods. China has incorporated sampling methods in its data collection which are popular in other countries and has made less reliance on the comprehensive report system. Sampling has been applied in household survey, crop production survey, enterprise survey, industrial statistics, demographic statistics, economic cycle survey, quality control and other areas. China is also prepared to collect data from small establishments in the next economic census in 2004 in order to reduce the cost of data collection.
Seventh, China¡¯s statistics has achieved the shift in technical advancement from manual processing to electronic application. China¡¯s statistics, with the experience of other countries, has widely applied computer techniques, network techniques and the other benefits from the rapidly developing IT in the areas of data collection, processing, transmission, storage and dissemination. Direct processing is available for manufacture and construction statistics sectors. The NBS is entering information into the databank and metadata systems developed by the SIMP. This program will help form a national platform for data harmonization and dissemination.
The above-mentioned achievements demonstrate the fact that it is the international technical cooperation between China¡¯s statistics and its partners has made those achievements possible and thus played an important role in developing and reforming China¡¯s statistical system. China¡¯s statistics is getting further integrated in the international statistical community with the further development of China¡¯s economy.
III. Main Guiding Principles in China¡¯s Technical Cooperation in Statistics
The extensive technical cooperation between China¡¯s statistics and its partners in the past 25 years has gained some basic experience, which is regarded as the guiding principles for the conducting of the technical cooperation. Those guiding principles are still of great significance for the present and future cooperation.
First above all, successful technical cooperation should be the one that encourages the recipient to introduce and apply internationally recognized standards. The norms and popular practice of official statistics under the market economy have become the common wealth of the international statistical community. Since China¡¯s statistics operates under the market economy, it shall follow them. In the past 25 years, China¡¯s statistics has actually developed towards that end. Due to the historical heritage and developmental environment of China¡¯s statistics, the pace may be quicker in some periods than other periods, but one thing is certain that the direction will not change. To a country of large population and territory as China is, a reasonably long period to complete the process is justifiable. If comparisons are made between China¡¯s statistics 25 years ago and present, a conclusion can be drawn that China has made obvious and great changes in its statistics.
Second, successful technical cooperation should be ensured by extensive support from the senior managements of the parties so that a favorable environment is created for the implementation. For the Chinese side, the economic reform program to establish a market economy encourages China¡¯s statistics to get involved in international technical cooperation. The government¡¯s coordinator in this area, the Ministry of Commerce of China, has kindly offered its strong support to China¡¯s technical cooperation in statistics. The management of the NBS has been engaged in the operation of the technical cooperation. The statistical offices in the ministries and local statistical offices have attached great importance to the technical cooperation. For the partners¡¯ side, the managements of funding agencies and implementing agencies have made their important contributions to the cooperation with China. The President of the Federal Statistical Office of Germany Mr. Hahlen has maintained his communications with the Commissioner of the NBS and is now present at the Symposium. The Chief Statistician of Canada Dr. Fellegi, in addition to meeting many Chinese delegations in Canada, came to the Statistical Policy Conference held in China in May 2002 and made a number of presentations there on the characteristics of an effective statistical system. A number of assistant chief statisticians of Canada take the responsibility as the managers of individual projects of the SIMP. The director of the Statistics Department of the IMF Mrs. Carson is invited as International Advisor to the NBS. The personal support from the managements of both the NBS and its partners has made the technical cooperation projects go along the correct direction and achieve the expected objectives as designed.
Third, successful technical cooperation should meet the requirements and benefits of all the parties involved and especially the implementing agency of the recipient country. The parties involved include the donor country composed of the coordinating agency and implementing agency and the recipient country composed of the coordinating agency and implementing agency. There is sometime an additional layer between the coordination agencies and implementing agencies. In the process of conducting its technical cooperation projects in the past years, the NBS used to make sufficient assessment of the project direction and take full communications with the other parties. Those actions ensured that the proposed projects conform with the priorities set up by the coordinating agencies of both the donor and recipient parties and are subject to the ability of the implementing agency of the donor party. The 10-year-old bilateral project between the NBS and the Federal Statistical Office of Germany is an example of the project following a similar kind of project designing. Every October is the month when the NBS sends its project proposal for the following year to the Federal Statistical Office of Germany for comments. An agreement is reached before the project is ready for implementation.
Fourth, successful technical cooperation should focus on the capacity building of the recipient agency. Any technical project is limited by time and space of the implementation. It is, however, critical that the knowledge learnt and capacity gained from the technical cooperation shall become its sustained capacity, and that the experience achieved from the test or demonstration project in a single place will become extended to a larger geographical coverage. The two projects of databank and metadata systems developed by the SIMP have helped form a capacity of the NBS to develop other systems further. The NBS will be responsible for developing one larger macroeconomic database system and become the basis of the three databases out of the four planned by the Chinese government to support the E-Government program.
Fifth, successful technical cooperation should be supported with sufficient human and financial resources from the recipient agency. Due to the fact that the cooperation projects conform with the development plan of China¡¯s statistics and that commitments are already made by the NBS to the availability of such resources, the projects hardly get into troubles due to the difficulties in resources. The projects implemented by the NBS are also supported by other shareholders where appropriate in addition to the allocation by the NBS. The inputs are requested to come from, for example, local governments. When choosing the test site for the household survey project under the SIMP, the NBS decided that the Hangzhou city of Zhejiang province won the tender among the three candidate cities. One of the major considerations is the financial commitment already made by the Hangzhou Municipal government to a 50% coverage of the cost.
The above principles are not all that China statistics has followed in its technical cooperation, but they are the most important ones. We know that the donor countries, international organizations and statistical offices have made large human and financial inputs in the reform and development of China¡¯s statistics, and those inputs, in the final analysis, come from the taxes from taxpayers. China is grateful for, and treasures, the inputs. The international inputs, together with its own efforts, has made the progress possible in China¡¯s statistics in the past 25 years.
IV. Main Future Orientations in China¡¯s Technical Cooperation in Statistics
The NBS Commissioner Mr. Li Deshui will make a presentation on the objectives, priorities and steps of China¡¯s statistics at this Symposium. The international technical cooperation of China¡¯s statistics will no doubt keep its conformity with those objectives, priorities and steps. In this section, I will make a description of the general framework the technical cooperation of China¡¯s statistics, which might be useful for the interested parties.
First, the future technical cooperation shall help make a comprehensive and harmonized development of China¡¯s statistical system. Apart from the NBS, the system includes statistical offices in ministries and local statistical office. These various categories of statistical offices have not yet set up an effective coordinating mechanism and the data producers and users have not yet maintained an effective dialogue mechanism. The linkage between the national accounts and subject matter statistics and price statistics needs further improvement. Many concepts and standards left over from the planned economy have not yet been out of China¡¯s statistics though some important concepts and standards have been introduce and applied already. The data collection still uses the comprehensive reports for many statistical programs which shall be subject to cost-effectiveness analysis. The data dissemination cannot meet the user requirements in terms of both content and form. China¡¯s statistics cannot move forward without immediate and further reforms.
Second, the future technical cooperation shall help develop social statistics as well. In the past 25 years, China¡¯s statistics has laid its emphasis on economic statistics. However, social statistics in such areas as education, health, culture, environment, housing, migration, unemployment and poverty is weak. The organizational structuring program initiated by the Chinese Government in 1998 has reduced the resources for social statistics. On the other hand, social development and progress are the results of economic development and also the eventual objectives. The Chinese Government has already claimed its new strategy of a human-based, overall, harmonized and sustainable development, and decided to continue the harmonized development in both the economic and social areas and the harmonized development of man and nature. The increasing requirements for social statistics are made by the Chinese Government and other data users. In this context, social statistics will be one of the priority areas of technical cooperation in China¡¯s statistics.
Third, the future technical cooperation shall help apply the IT progress in China¡¯s statistics. The organizational restructuring is not completed yet in China and may further reduce the staff especially in local statistical offices. On the contrary, the data requirements are increasing. As a result, China¡¯s statistics will have to resort to IT progress to balance the supply and demand for statistics. IT progress can be widely used for China¡¯s statistics in data collection, transmission, processing and dissemination. The statistical agencies in other countries have already accumulated rich experience which can be used in the reform and development of China¡¯s statistics.
Fourth, the future technical cooperation shall focus on knowledge transfer and the development of human resources. At the beginning stage of the technical cooperation of China¡¯s statistics, international assistance laid great emphasis on providing equipment. This practice was meaningful when China was underdeveloped economically and the budget for statistics was quite limited. After the economic growth for 25 year, the Chinese Government has improved its budget situation and is able to make the necessary funds available for equipment especially in developed provinces. China¡¯s statistics has also realized that the knowledge transfer is more cost-effective than the provision of equipment. With the knowledge learnt, China¡¯s statistics will make its own efforts to train its staff by means of classroom training and/or distance training, and thus make it possible for China¡¯s statistics to build up its own capacity of development and progress.
Fifth, the future technical cooperation shall involve the extensive participation by those from other official statistical agencies and academic areas. The different segments of the official statistics in China are parts of the whole, and should also become the players of the game. They shall get the benefits from technical cooperation and share the responsibilities as well. Those statistical offices located in poor provinces shall received special attention. The future technical cooperation shall include the participation by academic people from universities and research institutions who in turn will contribute their valuable opinions and ideas and ensure better outcomes of the technical cooperation. Other benefits can be achieved for their teaching activities at universities and their research at their institutions by their better knowledge of the operation of the official statistics at home and abroad. The students they have trained will better meet the qualifications required by official statistics.
This paper reviews the background and development of the technical cooperation of China¡¯s statistics with its partners, summarizes the achievements from technical cooperation in the past 25 years, introduces the main guiding principles followed by China¡¯s statistics to deal with technical cooperation and proposes the future orientations for China¡¯s technical cooperation in statistics. China¡¯s statistics shall make full use of international technical cooperation in order to promote the reform and development process of the statistical system in china, to eventually establish a modern official statistical system which meets the requirements of the socialist market economy, conforms with the international norms and standards, and produces more and better statistics with less cost.