China Pollution

Unable to clean air completely for APEC, China resorts to blocking data

China’s various restrictions and outright bans to ensure clearer skies over Beijing for APEC succeeded to such an extent a new phrase entered the country’s Internet lexicon — “APEC blue”. Meanwhile, smog the government’s clean-up measures couldn’t prevent was contained by a data shutdown that blocked the city’s pollution readings.

It would have been too embarrassing to block the Beijing air quality pollution index from the U.S. Embassy monitoring station during President Obama’s visit for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders Week. But what to do to ensure the city’s pollution monitors agreed with the desirable classification of “good”, as posted by the government’s own readings? Block local smart phone apps and websites from circulating readings from the embassy to ensure Beijing’s skies received the all-clear for the length of the summit. According to a report by The Washington Post:

On Monday afternoon, the U.S. Embassy air quality monitor reported a reading of 157, a measurement classified as “unhealthy”. Red-faced, the Chinese government has come up with an innovative solution — block the data from being displayed on local smart phone apps and Web sites.

The country’s netizens were quick to twig to the government’s data ban strategy.

“We can’t fix the smog, so we fix the smog report,” said one, notes the Post.

Meanwhile, Internet lexicon quickly incorporated new phrases to ensure the jokes, if not clean skies, kept coming.

“‘APEC blue’, has rapidly come to symbolize something beautiful but short-lived, something not quite real,” and Beijing smog the opposite: something persistent and constant: “He’s so into you, it’s like Beijing smog on a December Saturday,” writes the Post.

Read the full report by the Washington Post here at the publisher’s website.

Although Beijing’s turnaround on its polluted skies for the APEC summit did prove the city was capable of improvement (if the capital essentially ground to a halt), it prompted some observers to ask: “Are APEC leaders’ lungs the only ones that matter?”

It’s not that the technologies to keep the country’s air clean are unavailable, Probe International’s Patricia Adams argues, it’s because the country lacks a credible regulatory regime that makes polluters pay and rewards investors to innovate. For more on this, see: Distorted economy dooms China to an “airpocalypse”.

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