BEIJING Jan 15 Days after choking smog
blanketed China's capital, the country's premier-designate added
his voice to appeals to curb the toxic haze, but he offered few
specifics and said there was no quick fix.
The comments from Vice Premier Li Keqiang, who is expected
to take over as premier at a national congress in March, marked
the first time a member of the ruling Communist Party's
seven-member Politburo Standing Committee has addressed the
pollution levels that reached record levels during the weekend.
Conditions had eased somewhat by Tuesday, but the hazardous
air sparked angry comments from some of Beijing's 20 million
residents and enlivened a usually compliant state media to
criticize government inaction.
"There has been a long-term buildup to this problem, and the
resolution will require a long-term process. But we must act,"
state radio cited Li as saying on Tuesday, three days after the
pollution measures soared past previous records.
"On the one hand, we have to increase the strength of
environmental management and other official tasks, and on the
other hand we must remind the public to strengthen personal
protection. This situation requires the awareness and
participation of all people and our joint management," he said.
Emissions from factories and heating plants, fumes from
millions of vehicles and the burning of coal bricks to heat
homes often conspire to blanket the city in a pungent haze that
can become trapped over the city when weather conditions are
Air quality in Beijing was far above hazardous levels over
the weekend, reaching 755 on Saturday on an index that measures
particulate matter in the air with a diameter of 2.5
micrometers. A level above 300 is considered hazardous, while
the World Health Organisation recommends a daily level of no
more than 20.
Particulate matter with a 2.5 micrometer diameter, known as
PM2.5, can cause cardiopulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute
respiratory infection, according to the Journal of Toxicology
and Environmental Health.
Li praised the government for openly publishing data on the
PM2.5 particulates in a "timely and realistic" manner, although
it made the change only last year after public pressure in
response to a popular following of the index published by the
U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
However, some observers said the government has been
relatively quick to admit to the scale of the air pollution
problem in the capital, in part because it is concerned about
potential unrest from growing pollution woes across the country,
but also because air quality cannot be concealed from the public
eye despite strictly controlled media.
The Beijing branch of China's environmental watchdog said on
its microblog on Monday that it had implemented a one-day
emergency pollution reduction plan, which aimed to reduce the
number of government cars on roads and to cut emissions at 54
factories by 30 percent.
Digging and demolition work at 28 construction sites would
be temporarily halted, it said, but offered no details on the
projects or factories involved in the plan.
Ma Jun, an environmentalist who founded the Institute of
Public and Environmental Affairs, said the government's handling
of the recent smog-wave had been "unprecedented" in its
"The first step is to tell people the truth, and to put
people's health ahead of the face of the government. To have the
courage to face reality, it's the precondition for any
meaningful solution," Ma told Reuters.
But he said over the long run officials must look beyond the
capital for a solution for cleaner Beijing air.
"The whole region has been too dependent on heavily
polluting industry. The discharge volume is way beyond
environmental capacity, so we need to change the economic
structure, and change the growth model," Ma said.
Air pollution readings still hovered at unhealthy levels on
Tuesday, according to U.S. Embassy data.
The toxic air has not stifled the wit of Beijing residents,
many of whom resorted to sarcasm in an effort to cope with the
One Internet user recorded new lyrics to a well-known ballad
titled "Beijing, Beijing", replacing emotional references to the
city with accounts of its smog-stricken skies in a video that
had been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on China's
video-sharing site Youku.
Others vented on microblogs.
"I love our city, but I refuse to be a human vacuum
cleaner," said one posting.
(Additional reporting by the Beijing newsroom; Editing by Ken