According to official data, China’s economy grew by 6.9% in 2017 – the first time in seven years the pace of growth has picked up.
The figure beats the government’s official annual expansion target of about 6.5%.
China is a key driver of the global economy and so the better-than-expected data is likely to cheer investors around the world.
However, many China watchers believe the GDP numbers are much weaker than the official figures suggest.
This month alone, the governments of Inner Mongolia and of the large industrial city of Tianjin have admitted their economic numbers for 2016 were overstated.
Taking the figures at face value, the 2017 growth rate is China’s highest in two years and it represents the first time the economy has expanded faster than the previous year since 2010.
However, as Beijing ramps up efforts to reduce risky debt and to increase air quality, analysts said this may impact 2018 growth.
The numbers released on January 18 also showed that in O4 of 2017, the economy grew at an annual rate of 6.8% – slightly higher than analysts had been expecting.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said recently that China’s debt had ballooned and was now equivalent to 234% of the total output. It said China needed to concentrate less on growth and instead help improve banks’ finances, among other efforts.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government says it has been taking steps to contain risky debt despite the impact that might have on economic growth – efforts the IMF said it recognized.
The government has promised to continue tackling local government debt, among other efforts, and on January 18 vowed to help state-owned enterprises “leverage and cut debt … and to repay their bonds on time this year”.
China’s strict anti-pollution measures, which were introduced across 28 cities in 2017, are also expected to hurt economic growth in the short term.
The measures have included shutting down or cutting back production at factories in heavy industry like cement and steel.
Households have also been asked to switch to natural gas and electricity from coal, in an effort to curb pollution.
However, this policy left millions without proper heating, and so was temporarily abandoned in December.
According to officials, Beijing’s air quality improved sharply in the winter of 2017. They also heralded their efforts as a “new reality” for China.