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Why do Western news agencies quote PRC government statistics as if they aren’t completely made up?

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This question comes to mind when I read stories like this AP report from last week, which is relevant to the current COVID policies in China, and the protests against them that Erik referenced this morning:

China on Sunday announced its first new death from COVID-19 in nearly half a year as strict new measures are imposed in Beijing and across the country to ward against new outbreaks.

The death of the 87-year-old Beijing man was the first reported by the National Health Commission since May 26, bringing the total death toll to 5,227. The previous death was reported in Shanghai, which underwent a major springtime surge in cases.

I mean could it be more obvious that these claims are totally unrelated to whatever is actually happening with COVID in China?

China is a country of more than 1.4 billion people, that is the site of the original COVID epidemic, and is also the nexus of a vast amount of international trade and other cross-national activity. Its government has been distributing highly suboptimal vaccines to an elderly population that has proven remarkably resistant to actually taking them.

When you adjust for population, China is claiming that fewer Chinese have died of COVID over the past three years than the number of Americans who have drowned in swimming pools over that same time.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government has been doing everything it can to avoid publishing the national overall mortality statistics it normally provides, for the again the all too obvious reason that it would reveal some immensely vaster number than the 5,227 COVID deaths it is acknowledging.

How vast? Because of the government’s combination of constant brazen lying and data censorship it’s difficult to estimate except within very large ranges, but given what we know about the course of the disease elsewhere, the Chinese response in regard to vaccines, and the declining effectiveness of even the most stringent lockdown measures in stopping the spread of the disease (for example Japan has endured the population-adjusted equivalent of what in China would be around 600,000 COVID deaths), it would be shocking if the number were not well into the hundreds of thousands, and surprising if it were not into seven figures.

When governments publish numbers that are obvious lies, news agencies should report that these are obvious lies, because both the lies themselves and their obviousness are newsworthy.

What’s not newsworthy is the analytical value of the government’s purported statistics, which is sharply negative, because those statistics are simply fabricated.

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