Chinese TV Host Says Regime Nearly Bankrupt

November 13, 2011 11:46 pm Last Updated: December 10, 2011 9:25 pm
Larry Lang, chair professor of Finance at the Chinese University of Hong Kong
Larry Lang, chair professor of Finance at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. (Wu Lianyou/The Epoch Times)

China’s economy has a reputation for being strong and prosperous, but according to a well-known Chinese television personality the country’s Gross Domestic Product is going in reverse.

Larry Lang, chair professor of Finance at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said in a lecture that he didn’t think was being recorded that the Chinese regime is in a serious economic crisis—on the brink of bankruptcy. He coined the phrase: “In China, every province is a Greece.”

The restrictions Lang placed on the Oct. 22 speech in Shenyang City, in northern China’s Liaoning Province, included no audio or video recording, and no media. He can be heard saying that people should not post his speech online, or “everyone will look bad,” in the audio that is now on Youtube.

In the unusual, closed-door lecture, Lang gave a frank analysis of the Chinese economy and the censorship that is placed on intellectuals and public figures. “What I’m about to say is all true. But under this system, we are not allowed to speak the truth,” he said.

Despite Lang’s polished appearance on his high-profile TV shows, he said: “Don’t think that we are living in a peaceful time now. Actually the media cannot report anything at all. Those of us who do TV shows are so miserable and frustrated, because we cannot do any programs. As long as something is related to the government, we cannot report about it.”

He said that the regime doesn’t listen to experts, and that Party officials are insufferably arrogant. “If you don’t agree with him, he thinks you are against him,” he said.

Lang’s assessment that the regime is bankrupt was based on five conjectures.

Firstly, that the regime’s debt sits at about 36 trillion yuan (US$5.68 trillion). This calculation is arrived at by adding up Chinese local government debt (between 16 trillion and 19.5 trillion yuan, or US$2.5 trillion and US$3 trillion), and the debt owed by state-owned enterprises (another 16 trillion, he said). But with interest of two trillion per year, he thinks things will unravel quickly.

Secondly, that the regime’s officially published inflation rate of 6.2 percent is fabricated. The real inflation rate is 16 percent, according to Lang.

Thirdly, that there is serious excess capacity in the economy, and that private consumption is only 30 percent of economic activity. Lang said that beginning this July, the Purchasing Managers Index, a measure of the manufacturing industry, plunged to a new low of 50.7. This is an indication, in his view, that China’s economy is in recession.

Fourthly, that the regime’s officially published GDP of 9 percent is also fabricated. According to Lang’s data, China’s GDP has decreased 10 percent. He said that the bloated figures come from the dramatic increase in infrastructure construction, including real estate development, railways, and highways each year (accounting for up to 70 percent of GDP in 2010).

Fifthly, that taxes are too high. Last year, the taxes on Chinese businesses (including direct and indirect taxes) were at 70 percent of earnings. The individual tax rate sits at 51.6 percent, Lang said.

Once the “economic tsunami” starts, the regime will lose credibility and China will become the poorest country in the world, Lang said.

Several commentators have expressed broad agreement with Lang’s analysis.

Professor Frank Xie at the University of South Carolina, Aiken, said that the idea of China going bankrupt isn’t far fetched. Major construction projects have helped inflate the GDP, he says. “On the surface, it is a big number, but inflation is even higher. So in reality, China’s economy is in recession.”

Further, Xie said that official figures shouldn’t be relied on. The regime’s vice premier, Li Keqiang for example, admitted to a U.S. diplomat that he doesn’t believe the statistics produced by lower-level officials, and when he was the governor of Liaoning Province, he “had to personally see the hard data.”

Cheng Xiaonong, an economist and former aide to ousted Party leader Zhao Ziyang, said that high praise of the “China model” is often made on the basis of the high-visibility construction projects, a big GDP, and much money in foreign reserves. “They pay little attention to things such as whether people’s basic rights are guaranteed, or their living standard has improved or not,” he said.

Behind the fiat control of the economy, which can have the appearance of being efficient, there is enormous waste and corruption, Cheng said. It means that little spending is done on education, welfare, the health system, etc.

Cheng says that for the last decade the Chinese regime has accumulated its wealth primarily by promoting real estate development, buying urban and suburban residential properties at low prices (or simply taking them), and selling them to developers at high prices.

According to Cheng, the goals of regime officials (to enrich themselves and increase their power) are in direct conflict with those of the people–so social injustice expands, and economic propaganda meant to portray the situation as otherwise prevails.

Few scholars inside the country dare to speak as Lang has, Cheng said. And that’s probably because he has a professorship in Hong Kong.

Correction: The article misstated the individual tax rate in China. The correct rate is 51.6 percent, according to chair professor of Finance at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Larry Lang. The Epoch Times regrets the error.