China crowned as world’s top manufacturer for 14th year, rebuking smears against economy
Published: Jan 19, 2024 09:15 PM


China's manufacturing industry remained the world's biggest in terms of scale for the 14th consecutive year in 2023, with several sectors such as auto and shipbuilding ranking top in the world, a senior Chinese industry official said on Friday, offering more evidence of China's solid economic performance in 2023 despite various challenges.

Beyond its sheer size, the Chinese manufacturing industry has also seen several milestones in 2023, with the rise of the new-energy vehicles (NEVs) and commercial operation of China's first domestically built large passenger aircraft and the trial voyage of the first domestically made cruise ship. These are all vivid examples of the fact that China's economy is not only rebounding in terms of size, but also improving in terms of quality, experts said.

Experts also noted that the growing indicators of China's economic recovery and high-quality development also provide the strongest rebuttal to some Western media's intensifying campaign to smear the Chinese economy, even after China posted the fastest GDP growth rate among major economies in 2023.

At a press conference on Friday, Xin Guobin, vice minister of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), said that China's manufacturing industry was further consolidated, the industrial economy recovered and the development of information and telecommunication industry accelerated. Industrial output of major industrial firms grew 4.6 percent year-on-year in 2023, up 1 percentage point from 2022.

Notably, several milestones were achieved in 2023, according to Xin. The scale of China's manufacturing industry remained the world's biggest for a 14th year in 2023. Total exports of solar batteries, lithium-ion batteries and electric vehicles - known as "the new tech-intensive green trio" - exceeded 1 trillion yuan ($140.57 billion) for the first time.

China is also set to become the world's biggest car exporter for the first time in 2023. China's shipbuilding sector also retained the biggest share of the global market. China's computing power also ranked second in the world, according to MIIT on Friday.

The landmark achievements in the manufacturing industry, a backbone of China's economy, not only highlighted its stable recovery from the three-year pandemic, but also underscored solid progress in industrial upgrade, which is crucial for high-quality development, experts noted.

"If you look at the overall economic performance of various countries around the world in 2023, China's economy is very impressive," Zhao Xijun, a professor of finance at Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Friday. However, "disruptions" in conveying the information have led to "a misconception that even though we achieved a 5.2-percent growth rate, it still feels something is off."

China on Wednesday reported that its GDP expanded by 5.2 percent year-on-year in 2023, higher than the official growth target of around 5 percent set in early 2023. The growth rate is expected to be higher than that of advanced economies, including the US. The US' GDP growth rate is expected to be 2.5 percent, and that of advanced economies as a whole 1.5 percent, according to the World Bank.

Political narratives

However, despite solid recovery in the world's second-largest economy in 2023, many Western media outlets continue to paint a dire picture of China's economy by distorting facts. In the latest attempt, some Western media outlets, after exhausting all other avenues, sought to raise doubts about the veracity of China's economic data.

Most notably, Paul Krugman, an opinion columnist at the New York Times, argued that "China's economy is in serious trouble" in an article on Thursday. He asserted that "China has underperformed by just about every economic indicator other than official" and then claimed that there was "widespread skepticism" about the GDP growth figure. The report linked to a Bloomberg article that also discussed "longstanding suspicions about the accuracy of China's official GDP growth data."

"We have already gotten used to this. [Some Western media] will try to come up with all kinds of narratives and theories to smear the Chinese economy, and when they can't find anything new, they always go back to questioning the accuracy of Chinese data," Li Yong, a senior research fellow at the China Association of International Trade, told the Global Times on Friday. "None of them have any concrete evidence."

Li said that the negative Western media reports about the Chinese economy reflect both their bias toward China and their misunderstanding of the country, whose economy is vastly different from that of the West. Moreover, there are also political motivations behind the disparaging of China's economy and talking up of the US economy, which is aimed at lifting a certain party's political standing in the US.

This is reflected in many Western media reports. Krugman's article on Thursday about China's economy actually led with the assertion that the US economy "vastly outperformed expectations" in 2023. In fact, Krugman, who has won a Nobel prize in economics, actually sounded more like a political writer in his recent pieces. "Is poor economic sentiment all about MAGA?" he asked in an article on January 9, referring to former US President and current candidate Donald Trump's campaign slogan. He blamed "Republicans angry that Donald Trump isn't still president" for poor public sentiment about the US economy.

By comparing a "collapsing" Chinese economy with a "great" US economy, some of these Western reports are actually trying to help boost the image of "Bidenomics" among US voters, Li said.

Many institutions and experts in China are calling for stepped up efforts to counter the West's smear campaign against China's economy. In a report released on Friday, the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China called Western media's "peak China" narratives "absurd" and recommended various ways to counter them.

"In the face of this round of 'political propaganda' offensive launched by the US, waves of counteroffensive battles of the mind, and counter-encirclement and suppression campaigns will surely make a substantial contribution to restoring the international community's confidence in China's economy," said the report, which was shared with the Global Times.