Despite China’s GDP propelling it to the second largest economy in the world, some cities across the nation are choosing to drop GDP as an indicator of success, instead using quality of life as a measurement tool.
Earlier this month, the Nanjing government announced it would stop the GDP assessment for 66 townships in six districts and judge improvement by environmental quality and how well off individual residents are.
In the future, residents will take an annual satisfaction survey that would be used to determine the effectiveness of government officials.
Wang Liuping, deputy secretary general of the Nanjing Party Committee said canceling the GDP assessment was done because industry has seriously damaged the environment as local officials desperately pursue economic development to underline their performance and then get promoted.
Recently, similar reforms occurred in other places, including Zhejiang and Sichuan provinces. In Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, assessments based on economic growth in townships were also called off in May.
Liu Hong, director of neighborhood committee for Meihua Street in Xiangzhou district, Zhuhai, told Nanfang Daily that in the past, officials from the neighborhood were weighed down with attracting investment to finish the economic targets ordered by the district.
“But now they are more devoted to providing public services to residents, including daycare and education,” said Liu.
In October last year, Sichuan announced it would not order a “GDP target” for city-level governments to achieve every year.
“Without a GDP target, local officials might not be busy constructing glamour projects, which have done little to help us or accomplish anything positive,” Cao Li, a resident in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, told the Global Times.
“No one wants to live in a city with a high GDP that is unable to provide high income, good medical care or decent housing conditions,” she added.
Zhu Lijia, a professor with the Beijing-based Chinese Academy of Governance, told the Global Times ending reliance on the GDP as the sole economic indicator is an inevitable trend.
During the past 30 years since the reform and opening up policy, the main target has been to create wealthy societies, said Zhu. Therefore, GDP, which has been regarded as the best criteria to measure economic development of a country for more than half a century, plays an overwhelming role in China.
“For the next 30 years the main task of officials should be switched to improving the public’s quality of life. It is time for people to enjoy the fruits of social development,” Zhu said.
More emphasis on quality of life doesn’t mean totally giving up the GDP target, considering its role promoting the economic development of society, said Zhu.
In the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15), the National Development and Reform Commission kept the requirement of an annual GDP growth (7 percent).
Some experts, including Wu Xiaoling, a member of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, also vice chairman of the NPC Financial and Economic Committee, said it is difficult for local governments not to care about the GDP at all.
China Newsweek quoted asking, “If all local governments give up the requirement for the GDP, how can targets in economic plans be hit?”
Nanjing resident Shi Xiaofan said he is not optimistic about the new plan.
“If the higher-levels of government, which still have a GDP target to fulfill every year, ordered a high-profit project that could cause major pollution to a township, I don’t think the township will cast aside the opportunity,” he said to the Global Times.
Liu Xiaobing, a professor with the Nanjing University of Technology, also said the results of the plan will take some time to materialize.
He pointed out Sichuan has an annual GDP growth target of nearly 15 percent according to the province’s 12th Five-Year Plan of the. So, removing the GDP assessment could do little to help curb pollution.
Liu said the effect an official has on the public’s happiness and satisfaction is more difficult to rate.
He worried, in order to be promoted, some officials could manufacture false public satisfaction or only harvest opinion from wealthy groups to boast his achievements.
“Improving quality of life depends more on official changing their views of their political performance and whether they have the resolve to build a responsible government,” said Liu. “Without the right perspective on their duties, any assessment reform could be in vain.”