Tuesday, 5 June 2012

China's Air Quality Debate Continues

The US Embassy in Beijing -- where's the monitoring station?
The war of words continues between Beijing and the United States consulate over air quality.

Since 2008, the US embassy has posted air quality readings in the capital on Twitter, stating the PM 2.5 reading and advising if it was safe or not for people to go outdoors. It has more than 19,000 followers.

The postings led to local residents wondering who was correct as there was a big discrepancy between the American and Chinese air quality readings. And only this year did China start releasing its PM or particulate matter readings of less than 2.5 micrometres in size, about 1/30th the width of a human hair.

In the end, this past March, the Xinhua News Agency reported the Chinese government aimed to cut PM 2.5 levels by 15 percent by 2015 compared with 2010 levels.

But will China meet its own targets?

Which is perhaps why it has fired the latest salvo in the air quality debate by telling foreign embassies to stop publishing data on air pollution levels in the country, saying only the Chinese government has the sole authority to do so.

In a briefing today, Wu Xiaoqing, a vice minister of environmental protection said foreign embassies releasing such data were interfering in China's internal affairs. He did not specify the US, but its consulates publish hourly pollution readings in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Wu said the monitoring and publication of data on air quality involves the public's interests and falls under the "authority of the government," Wu said. "We hope that individual consulates in China respect China's relevant laws and regulations and stop publishing the unrepresentative air quality information."

In response, US Embassy spokesperson Richard Buangan said in a statement the readings are "an unofficial resources for the health of the consulate community."

Meanwhile Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin waded into the debate, saying in a briefing in Beijing that embassies can measure air pollution and give the information to their staff, but not broadcast it on the internet.

The US Embassy readings are taken from one monitoring station within the consulate and follows the pollution level rating according to the US Environmental Protection Agency which is more stringent than the Chinese one.

It's quite amusing to see the Chinese government trying to use the "authority" card in this latest round of the air quality debate.

But really, whose readings are people going to believe? China or the US?

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