China says only it has right to monitor air pollution

BEIJING Wed Jun 6, 2012 1:56am EDT

1 of 2. A worker cleans the windows of an apartment block on a haze day, in central Beijing, June 6, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Lee

Related Topics

BEIJING (Reuters) - A senior Chinese official demanded on Tuesday that foreign embassies stop issuing air pollution readings, saying it was against the law and diplomatic conventions, in pointed criticism of a closely watched U.S. embassy index.

The level of air pollution in China's heaving capital varies, depending on the wind, but a cocktail of smokestack emissions, vehicle exhaust, dust and aerosols often blankets the city in a pungent, beige shroud for days on end.

Many residents dismiss the common official readings of "slight" pollution in Beijing as grossly under-stated.

The U.S. embassy has installed a monitoring point on its roof which releases hourly air-quality data via a widely followed Twitter feed. The U.S. consulates in Shanghai and the southern city of Guangzhou provide a similar service.

While China tightened air pollution monitoring standards in January, the official reading and the U.S. embassy reading can often be far apart.

Chinese experts have criticized the single U.S. embassy monitoring point as "unscientific".

Deputy Environment Minister Wu Xiaoqing went a step further, saying such readings were illegal and should stop, though he did not directly name the United States.

"According to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations ... foreign diplomats are required to respect and follow local laws and cannot interfere in internal affairs," Wu told a news conference.

"China's air quality monitoring and information release involve the public interest and are up to the government. Foreign consulates in China taking it on themselves to monitor air quality and release the information online not only goes against the spirit of the Vienna Convention ... it also contravenes relevant environmental protection rules."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin called on foreign diplomatic missions to respect China's laws and regulations and to stop issuing the readings, "especially over the Internet".

"If the foreign embassies want to collect this kind of information for their own staff and diplomats, I think it's up to them," Liu told reporters. "They can't release this information to the outside world."

The U.S. embassy acknowledges on its website ( that its equipment cannot be relied upon for general monitoring, saying "citywide analysis cannot be done ... on data from a lone machine".

Despite his criticism, Wu acknowledged that China's air quality and overall environmental situation remained precarious, with more than one tenth of monitored rivers rated severely polluted, for example.

"What needs saving is the country's air quality, not the government's face," Zhou Rong, an energy campaigner for Greenpeace, said in emailed comments. "The environmental authorities must stop finger pointing and start taking actions that really address the issue."

(Additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Nick Macfie)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (5)
Harry079 wrote:
“China says only it has right to monitor air pollution”


Sounds just like our EPA!

Unless there is some big fines at the end of the rainbow.

Jun 05, 2012 10:21pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Anthonykovic wrote:
Despite the glitz and economic growth, China remains a dictatorship.
No one elected the “authorities”, the communist party that runs the country. And the country really does stink.

Jun 05, 2012 11:02pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
hyperlux wrote:
Awesome. This is what happens when you sell out your land and resources for the sake of quick and easy gains. China is merely replicating in 25 years what it took the US about 100 years to do via heavy industrialization – ravaging its land, air and water to the point where the government finally began to issue laws that forced companies to change their behavior.

Their problem is there are no companies in China, only government. But it’s a bloody hilarious one!

Jun 06, 2012 1:09am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.


California's historic drought

With reservoirs at record lows, California is in the midst of the worst drought in decades.  Slideshow