A new study from the University of Chicago found that Chinese leaders exaggerated its gross domestic product (GDP) growth by as much as 35%.

The TimedNews citing the study also claimed that the Chinese authorities have falsely reported their economic growth for the past 20 years.

The University of Chicago published the study results in late October. Titled “How Much Should We Trust the Dictator’s GDP Growth Estimates?”, the findings indicate that China’s overstatement has now made its economy size far smaller than it claimed.

Luis Martinez is an assistant professor at the university and the author of the study. He revealed that he used nighttime satellite imagery, which shows the brightness of lights at night, as a proxy indicator of economic activity.

A common example is nighttime satellite imagery of the Korean peninsula. Much of democratic South Korea is brightly lit. In North Korea, led by dictator Kim Jong-un, much of it is dark on satellite images, with differences in brightness that make the border between the two countries clear.

Martinez looked at GDP data and satellite data for nearly 20 years in 184 countries and saw a clear pattern: authoritarian regimes exaggerated their GDP growth.

He used the “Freedom in the World” indicator, created by the NGO Freedom House, to measure a country’s degree of democracy. 

His study results suggest that the autocracies overstate their yearly GDP growth by 30-35%. That means, if the real growth rate is 1%, authoritarian governments would say 1.3%.

In autocratic China, Martinez’s modeling shows that over the past 20 years, the communist government may have overstated its GDP growth by nearly a third.

China last month delayed the release of its GDP growth data for the third quarter of 2022, with no explanation, as it coincided with the Communist Party’s 20th National Congress. The data, released in late October, claimed a 3.9% year-on-year increase.

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