Summing Up of the International Symposium on
Reforms, Achievements, and Challenges:
China and Its Partners in Statistical Cooperation
Carol S. Carson
International Monetary Fund
On May 11-13, 2004, over 100 persons gathered in Beijing for an international symposium on reforms, achievements, and challenges in China¡¯s statistics. They represented 24 statistical agencies and academic institutions in China, 6 national organizations and 7 international organizations that provide technical cooperation (TC) in statistics, users of Chinese statistics, representatives of statistical organizations in nine Asian countries that are on the road to improving their own statistics, and special guests. The participants expressed appreciation to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) of China, the Federal Statistical Office of Germany, Statistics Canada, and the International Monetary Fund for organizing the meeting, and they extended special thanks to the NBS for the efficient arrangements and warm hospitality.
The symposium was in the tradition of a meeting in 2000 that recommended a follow-up meeting be held in 3-4 years¡¯ time. The objectives of the 2004 symposium were threefold: (1) to assess the cooperative activities between the NBS and its partners; (2) to analyze the needs for TC in statistics from the perspectives of the users and producers of China¡¯s statistics; and (3) to propose directions for future TC that support China¡¯s continued reform of its statistical system.
The clear consensus of the symposium was that China is to be warmly congratulated for the reform of its statistical system over the last 25 years. The progress, especially in the last several years, in making China¡¯s official statistics more timely and reliable, more user-oriented, and closer to international standards and practices has been remarkable. TC from a number of bilateral and multilateral organizations contributed significantly to this effort. Challenges and opportunities remain, however, and the NBS leadership¡¯s clear outline of its goals, priorities, and step is welcome. TC providers and donors expressed their continued support according to their abilities and resources.
The papers prepared for the symposium will be assembled in a soft-bound volume in Chinese and English and placed on the NBS website. (The full agenda is attached.) Summary highlights of the three days follow:
• The beginning of China¡¯s economic reform in 1979 made it necessary to adapt the statistical system to a market orientation and provided an environment in which TC in statistics became possible. Some of the main achievements of the reform of statistics involved important shifts: to the idea of a market economy, to thinking of statistics as the common wealth of the entire society rather than only for government, to the rule of law as evidenced by the adoption of the Statistics Law, to the SNA from the MPS as the framework for national accounts, to international standards from domestic standards, and to electronic data processing from manual processing.
• China¡¯s economic reform continues at a fast pace, as signified by its accession to the WTO in 2001. The reform places new demands on statistics, and from the point of view of China¡¯s policymakers the system has made important progress but still has several weaknesses in meeting these demands. For example, with its current institutional setting, the NBS cannot exert sufficient control over provincial bureaus to assure reliability of reported information. Also, the indicators, especially about labor markets and services, are not complete; basic data are not yet stable enough nor consistent enough to support timely economic policy formulation; and data are not sufficiently internationally comparable to allow the world to understand China and to allow China to understand the world. Academic and other analysts add to the list weaknesses in dissemination practices and coordination among agencies and line ministries.
• Three major TC providers presented the history, principles and methods, and achievements of their TC projects. For each, TC recipients from the NBS, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, the Ministry of Finance, and the People¡¯s Bank of China gave their views.
• Statistics Canada reported on its Statistical Information Management Program, which included seven projects with the NBS over the period since 1996. These covered statistical infrastructure, financial management, and specific statistical subjects such as household expenditure surveys.
• The Federal Statistical Office of Germany described its cooperation with the NBS on industrial and road statistics and on data dissemination and international transportation data supply over the period since 1996.
• The Statistics Department of the IMF reported on its cooperation with the several Chinese agencies that prepare sets of macroeconomic accounts. Most recently this cooperation took place in the framework of the General Data Dissemination System (GDDS), in which China began to participate in 2002.
Other TC providers and donors, including the OECD, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Statistics Sweden, the Korean International Cooperation Agency, INSEE of France, Paris21, the Japan Bureau of Statistics, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and United Nations Development Program also made presentations.
• Providers and recipients identified a number of factors that contribute to successful TC. Many factors were on the lists of both providers and recipients. Several of these relate to what may be called good project management, for example, clear statement of objectives, objectives that are seen as benefits by both sides but especially the recipient, evaluations at defined milestones and adjustment as needed, and support from senior managements on both sides. Some factors related specifically to statistics, most notably the focus on introducing internationally recognized standards. Some related to the need to bridge between cultures and over large distances, especially the need to be familiar with the culture of the other side. References were made to the UN document ¡°Some Guiding Principles in Technical Cooperation for Statistics.¡±
• In reviewing these TC projects, three cross-cutting topics were pursued.
• With respect to ¡°Adapting International Standards and Best Practices,¡± the discussion included case studies on the introduction of international classifications, sample survey methodology, business registers, short-term economic indicators, and the 1993 System of National Accounts.
• On ¡°Capacity Building, ¡° several points emerged, including the need for a strategy to cover system-wide reform, the needs to consider relationships with respondents and other suppliers of data, the need to engage a range of users to identify their needs as a guide to future directions, and the need to raise the profile of statistics within government and with the public.
• The discussion of ¡°Data Quality and Dissemination¡± brought out that the improvement of quality is a long-term undertaking, using references to Kazakhstan¡¯s experience in moving through the GDDS to the SDDS and to Vietnam¡¯s long-term strategic plan. China¡¯s presentations highlighted the wide range of dissemination media that have been developed in recent years and the array of user-oriented activities that have been put in place for transportation statistics.
• The leadership of the NBS has a vision of the objectives, priorities, and next steps for China¡¯s statistics. The goals include the introduction of a modern official statistical systems that embodies Chinese characteristics and is integrated with international standards and recommendations. To achieve the goals, the priorities are the following: (1) improving the management system, including centralized leadership and coordination; (2) improving the national economic accounting system by integrating more closely with international standards and reforming survey methodology; (3) reforming the informatics infrastructure, (4) consolidating statistical legislation, enhancing public awareness of statistical laws, and improving law enforcement; (5) implementing a strategy for human resource development for statisticians; and (6) improving statistical services by quicker response, quality management to ensure accuracy and timeliness, enhancing analysis, and promoting wider public access.
• Looking ahead: Several strands of discussion came together to suggest that a new, higher level of cooperation may be ripe for national accounts. This new level, which might be called collaboration, would bring together the several potential TC provider organizations to discuss jointly with the NBS the needs in national accounts, including basic statistics, that the NBS listed and to identify the provider best positioned to help. This approach would allow the NBS to integrate and sequence its reforms effectively and, from the standpoint of the providers, it would help to avoid duplication of another organization¡¯s efforts. A meeting to discuss the prospects has been arranged. The possibility of similar collaboration in other areas also needs to be considered, especially in light of NBS¡¯s ambitious program.
For the future, it is likely that more attention will be paid to social statistics, in line with the Millennium Development Goals and the well-off society. This would be consistent with the interest in taking a more system-wide approach to strategic development.
Given the ambitious program for the future outlined by the NBS leadership, further elaboration to include the sequencing of steps and the financial and human resource costs would be welcome.
All parties viewed the sharing of these experiences in TC in statistics as beneficial. Participants recommended another symposium in 3-4 years, perhaps timed to be before or after another event that brings relevant parties together, to mark further achievements and identify any emerging trends and lessons. Participants reconfirmed their commitment, to use Mr. Li Deshui¡¯s words, ¡°to joint efforts in promoting the common development of official statistics.¡±