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President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Fayetteville, N.C., on Sept. 9, 2019. (AP/Seward) President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Fayetteville, N.C., on Sept. 9, 2019. (AP/Seward)

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Fayetteville, N.C., on Sept. 9, 2019. (AP/Seward)

Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy September 10, 2019

Trump wrongly claims China is having its ‘worst year in 57 years’

President Donald Trump exaggerated China’s economic slowdown during a recent rally for congressional candidate Dan Bishop in Fayetteville, N.C.

"I want China to do well, and I hope they do well, but they’ve had now the worst year in 57 years," he said during the Sept. 9 speech.

It’s true that China’s economy is slumping, but 57 years ago, the country was still suffering from a massive famine brought on by Mao Zedong’s economic policies that historians say killed as many as 45 million people. We found it impossible to believe that today’s China is just as bad.

In reality, China’s economy is growing at its slowest rate in about 27 or 29 — not 57 — years.

Slowed GDP growth

The Trump campaign did not say what Trump was referring to, but based on similar statements he’s made in the past, it’s likely that he was talking about economic growth. 

China’s gross domestic product grew 6.2% in the second quarter, marking its slowest pace since the first quarter of 1992, the earliest quarterly data available on record. But that’s the slowest quarterly growth in 27 years, not 57. 

The slowdown matched analysts’ predictions, as the International Monetary Fund projected that China’s GDP would grow 6.2% over the course of 2019. The last time China’s GDP grew less than 6.2% in a year’s time was in 1990 — 29 years ago — when it grew just 3.9%.

But China saw much harder times before that. For a number of years during the 1960s and ‘70s, the economy was in far worse shape than it is now, according to data from the World Bank.

"In the past 57 years China has had some very bad years in terms of growth and social development," said David Dollar, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s China Center. "The current situation is nowhere near as dire as any of those other periods." 

The Trump campaign pointed to a Wall Street Journal report suggesting China’s growth could be weaker than its official data lets on.

"Some economists who have dissected China’s GDP numbers say more accurate figures could be up to 3 percentage points lower, based on their analysis of corporate profits, tax revenue, rail freight, property sales and other measures of activity that they believe are harder for the government to fudge," the report said.

But even if China’s GDP growth rate was closer to 3.2%, Trump’s 57-year figure would remain a stretch, since China’s GDP was contracting as recently as 1976, 43 years ago.

Oddly enough, the president accurately described China’s economic slide as the "worst in 27 years" several times in July and August before experimenting with other timelines.

Recently, Trump had said China’s economy was at its worst point in "30, 40 years," "54 years," "52 or 54 years," "30 to 50 years" and "61 years." 

Reports in the Wall Street Journal have also made note of China’s falling currency and diminishing industrial production. But as the New York Times noted, those economic metrics show China struggling, but not to the point of breaking 57-year records. 

In August, the Chinese yuan tumbled to its lowest value in 11 years. And in July, China’s industrial output growth slowed to 4.8% from a year earlier, a 17-year low.

Mary Lovely, professor of economics at Syracuse University and a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said China’s economic slump is not particularly shocking to those who track economic growth data.

"As an economy develops, growth rates come down," she said. "Over the long term, we have seen China’s average growth rate decline, which is what we would expect."

In the United States, for example, the growth rate is much lower — it was 2.8% in 2018, according to the World Bank — because growth is more dependent on technological advances than making efficient use of existing resources, Lovely said.

Our ruling

Trump said China has "had now the worst year in 57 years."

China’s GDP recently grew at its slowest quarterly rate in 27 years, and it is projected to grow at its slowest yearly rate in 29 years. So China’s economy is slowing. But it’s not at its worst point in 57 years. 

We rate this statement Mostly False.

Our Sources

Aaron Rupar on Twitter, Sept. 9, 2019

International Monetary Fund, "People’s Republic of China," accessed Sept. 10, 2019

The World Bank, "GDP growth (annual %)," accessed Sept. 10, 2019

History.com, "What was the Cultural Revolution?" Aug. 9, 2019

The White House, "Remarks by President Trump Before Marine One Departure," Aug. 30, 2019

The White House, "Remarks by President Trump Before Marine One Departure," Aug. 24, 2019

The White House, "Remarks by President Trump Before Marine One Departure," Aug. 21, 2019

The White House, "Remarks by President Trump and President Iohannis of Romania Before Bilateral Meeting," Aug. 20, 2019

The White House, "Remarks by President Trump Before Air Force One Departure," Aug. 18, 2019

The White House, "Remarks by President Trump Before Marine One Departure," Aug. 9, 2019

The White House, "Remarks by President Trump Before Marine One Departure," Aug. 1, 2019

The White House, "Remarks by President Trump After Marine One Arrival," July 31, 2019

The White House, "Remarks by President Trump Before Marine One Departure," July 30, 2019

C-Span, "Donald Trump White House Interview," July 30, 2019

Donald J. Trump on Twitter, July 30, 2019

CNN, "Fact check: Trump makes at least 22 false claims at North Carolina rally," Sept. 10, 2019

The Wall Street Journal, "China Says Growth Is Fine. Private Data Show a Sharper Slowdown," Sept. 8, 2019

The Associated Press, "AP Fact Check: Trump distorts impact on China’s economy," Sept. 6, 2019

The New York Times, "Fact-Checking Trump’s Claims About China’s ‘Worst Year,’" Sept. 4, 2019

The Peterson Institute for International Economics, "China's Growth Is Slowing, but not Because of the Trade War," Aug. 21, 2019

Reuters, "China's economy worsens in July, industrial growth at 17-year low as trade war escalates," Aug. 13, 2019

NPR, "China's Currency Falls To Lowest Exchange Rate In 11 Years," Aug. 5, 2019

Reuters, "China second-quarter GDP growth slows to 27-year low as trade war bites, more stimulus seen," July 14, 2019

Email interview with Mary Lovely, professor of economics at Syracuse University and a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Sept. 10, 2019

Email interview with David Dollar, senior fellow in the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution, Sept. 10, 2019

Email interview with Zach Parkinson, deputy communications director for the Trump campaign, Sept. 10, 2019

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Trump wrongly claims China is having its ‘worst year in 57 years’

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