SHANGHAI — The most important recent piece of economic data in Shanghai is the number that's missing. At the annual new year session of the Shanghai Municipal People's Congress, the megacity chose not to set an annual GDP growth target, an unprecedented move for a country where local governments' political performances are largely tied directly to economic growth statistics.
Last year, Shanghai registered the lowest Growth Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate since 1991, at 7% — an enviable number in most parts of the world, but not in China that has been booming for more than two decades.
On the national level, China's National Bureau of Statistics recently released the country's 2014 economic growth total, at 7.4%, which was lower than the originally set objective of 7.5%. Though not dramatic, it is nevertheless the lowest national growth figure in 24 years.
Thus, Shanghai's decision not to set annual GDP growth projection for this year has generally been interpreted as a symbolic first step for China's initiative of adapting itself to the "New Norm" — a phrase that Chinese media has latched onto after President Xi Jinping used it last May, to refer to the fact that the country can no longer count on the double-digit economic growth of the recent past.
Xinhua News reported that the ongoing regional People's Congresses, held each January by various local governments around China, were a "showcase" for gauging Chinese officials' "new mindset in adapting to the New Norm.”
As most provinces, regions and municipalities all failed to meet their domestic product growth last year, they have all lowered their projections for this year.
"Economic performance shouldn't be the only factor of local government's assessment. GDP is no longer to be the supreme pursuit,” You Minjiang, Shanghai's CPPCC member told Xinhua News.
“The government should give more consideration to people's well-being in urban life and comfort."
Still, no one should mistake Shanghai’s decision not to forecast GDP as a sign that it has given up pursuing economic development. “Shanghai enjoys a relatively more mature economy than some others,” Liu Rui, Professor of Economics at Renmin University told Caixin. “So the city is better positioned to contribute more to improving people's well-being and thinking about issues like environmental protection."
Photo: Peter Dowley