End of GDP focus must lead to new evaluation criteria

By Sun Xiaobo Source:Global Times Published: 2015-2-26 0:28:01

For decades after China introduced the reform and opening-up policy, GDP growth was taken as a critical and even decisive criterion to evaluate the performance of local governments and determine whether officials could move up the career ladder. But the official obsession with GDP seems to have faded after 29 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions in China recently lowered their GDP expansion targets for this year as their policy focus shifts toward growth quality over quantity.

Shanghai, China's financial hub, became the first major city in the country to ditch the economic growth target and emphasize steady growth, restructuring and improved quality and efficiency of development.

2014 witnessed a notable shift in China's economy to a "new normal" that features a move from the previous high speed of growth to a medium-to-high-speed level of expansion, improved economic structures and a more innovation-driven economy -all of which signify an emphasis on quality over just quantity.

This comes as China is confronted with a multitude of problems. These include overproduction in some industries, environmental degradation and the waste of resources that results from excessive emphasis on GDP by local officials.

Abandoning this excessive emphasis on GDP will allow local governments more room to attend to their other responsibilities and better meet the people's expectations.

But this doesn't mean they should completely ignore GDP growth. China remains a developing country with a huge population, and economic development is still a priority. As GDP can no longer be taken as the sole factor in determining who the heroes are, a more scientific  criteria system to evaluate the performance of local governments is needed.

In any new criteria system, there should be specific targets for issues that people care about and differentiated targets that fully consider the actual needs of local developments.

Over the past two months, an array of local governments have mentioned and highlighted the quality and efficiency of their efforts at economic development and innovation in their annual reports.

Notably, more attention has been given to issues immediately concerning local residents' well-being such as their income levels and employment.

There have already been efforts at exploration into how such metrics may be established. For instance, the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region seeks to make the improvement of poor people's living standards and lifting ever more people out of poverty its main targets.

Premier Li Keqiang repeatedly said last year that it didn't matter whether China's GDP growth is higher or lower than the central government's 7.5 percent target if the country achieves a higher employment rate, the incomes of ordinary people increase and the quality and efficiency of economic development rises. As China abandons GDP supremacy, light can be shed on new metrics to assess local governments.

Posted in: Observer

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