China Transparency Report

China Transparency Report

Jan 25, 2024 4 min read

Richard Drury via Getty Images


The Heritage Foundation’s 2024 China Transparency Report assesses the current state of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) forthcomingness on eight key issues. It does so by analyzing the data, or lack thereof, provided by the Chinese government, and highlights measures by private organizations and researchers to fill in the (very wide) gaps using open-source data.

Why is transparency important? The report addresses this question for each of eight categories: (1) the economy, (2) energy and the environment, (3) human rights, (4) influence operations, (5) the military, (6) outbound investments, (7) politics and law, and (8) technology.

Broadly speaking, transparency is important because the Chinese government has a history of withholding, manipulating, and falsifying data for its own purposes. As U.S. policymakers address the China challenge, access to reliable data becomes increasingly important. Reliable data help to provide accurate assessments of China’s capabilities, expose areas in which China poses the greatest threat to U.S. interests, and examine where threats may be overstated or vulnerabilities may be exploited.

While the editors of the report acknowledge that virtually all governments have some transparency issues, the Chinese government’s lack of transparency is alarming on two fronts.

  • First, the nature of the Chinese communist system exacerbates the lack of transparency. Because control is its utmost priority, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) benefits from repressing data that do not fall in line with its narratives.
  • Second, the U.S.‐China competition and the policies made today will have consequences for generations to come. As such, it is critical that U.S. policymakers have access to accurate data to create sound policy.

The report is not a comprehensive review of every available transparency initiative: It is a survey of the field. The project seeks to raise awareness about ongoing private efforts and their methodologies while identifying areas with additional research needs. The editors hope that this report will encourage not only more data-driven analysis within the policy community but also cross-fertilization between categories.

While the focus of the report is primarily on private, non-governmental research, governmental agencies are instrumental in data collection as well. Unless stated otherwise, The Heritage Foundation does not claim ownership of the data projects mentioned in this report.

In addition to an assessment of the eight categories, this report also features six topical essays primarily written by external authors:

  • “‘Exert a Crushing Blow’: Beijing’s Strategy of Gradual Genocide in Xinjiang,” by Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation Senior Fellow and Director in China Studies Adrian Zenz, PhD. This essay examines the details and intent behind Beijing’s policies of mass internment and draconian birth prevention measures in its northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Based on new evidence from classified internal state documents, this essay argues that Beijing is intent on targeting Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in ways that constitute a gradually unfolding genocide. There is an abiding need to promote transparency with respect to the CCP’s efforts to curtail human rights.
  • “In Sight, Out of Mind: Shortcomings in Safeguarding the Defense Industrial Base from China,” by Hudson Institute Senior Fellow and former U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy Nadia Schadlow, PhD, and Heritage Research Assistant Andrew J. Harding. After analyzing nine annual Industrial Capabilities Reports to Congress from fiscal years 2013 through 2021, this essay argues that the Department of Defense has consistently reported many of the same vulnerabilities to the defense industrial base but has proven unable to address or remedy them. China has, therefore, been able to both cause and exploit vulnerabilities, ranging from establishing domain market shares over important products and resources to becoming the sole supplier for essential compounds needed for munition production. Unless the U.S. Department of Defense makes meaningful, transparent progress on resolving vulnerabilities, it will not deliver the necessary results needed to reorient America’s defense posture and safeguard American interests.
  • “Chinese Influence Strategies Are Putting the Pacific Islands on the Front Line—Again,” by Foundation for Defense of Democracies non-resident Senior Fellow Cleo Paskal. This essay investigates Chinese malign influence campaigns in the Pacific Islands region at a time when U.S. influence in the region is waning relative to China. While the U.S. aims to reengage with the region, China’s years-long campaign to enhance its influence and access have granted it growing leverage in the region. The Solomon Islands serve as a notable case study for understanding Chinese strategy in the region. The essay offers recommendations for the U.S. and Pacific Island countries to counter Chinese political warfare and improve engagement efforts.
  • “China and the COVID Data Crisis,” by Professor and Director of The Hanlon Financial Systems Center at The Stevens Institute of Technology George Calhoun, PhD. This essay surveys the data gaps and distortions created by China’s systematic suppression of COVID-related information and reviews independent estimates of the true impact of the pandemic in terms of infection and mortality in the Chinese population. COVID impacted China much worse than was portrayed in official statistics, and China has suppressed key and even basic data surrounding the true impact of COVID within China. Beijing’s deliberate coverup has imposed terrible costs—not just on the rest of the world—but on its own citizens.
  • “How Wall Street Funds China’s Rise,” by President & CEO of the American Securities Association and former special counsel to a U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commissioner and the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services Christopher A. Iacovella. This essay argues that Beijing has used the openness of the international financial and economic system to increase its global influence and amass leverage over the United States and its allies, resulting in a world that is less open and more authoritarian. This includes military, cyber, and geopolitical strategies aimed at undermining U.S. economic and national security. China could not have done this without the active and willing support of international investors—particularly those in the United States.
  • “How One Man-Rule Renders Chinese Policymaking as Opaque—and Ineffectual—as Ever,” by Jamestown Foundation Senior Fellow and adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong Willy Wo-Lap Lam, PhD. This essay argues that General Secretary Xi Jinping’s prioritization of personal loyalty over established conventions has caused the CCP to make controversial policy decisions—and risks complicating future policy goals and political stability. With Xi forming a personality cult, as well as the restitution of Maoist leadership practices, Chinese policymaking and policy execution are even more non-transparent and non-democratic than was the case under Xi’s predecessors.

View the full report here

2021 China Transparency Report

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