China tells US to stop reporting Beijing's bad air
BEIJING—A senior Chinese environmental official told foreign embassies on Tuesday to stop publishing their own reports on air quality in China, a clear reference to a popular U.S. Embassy Twitter feed that tracks pollution in smoggy Beijing.
Wu Xiaoqing, a vice environmental minister, told reporters at a briefing in Beijing that only the Chinese government is authorized to monitor and publish air quality information and warned that data from other sources may not be standardized or rigorous.
The U.S. Embassy gives hourly readings of Beijing's air quality via a Twitter feed that has gathered more than 19,000 followers since it was set up in 2008. It uses a more stringent standard for acceptable amounts of pollution than the Chinese government does.
Wu said it isn't fair to judge Chinese air by American standards because China is a developing country. He noted that the U.S. has gradually made its environmental guidelines more stringent over time.
The standard China uses "takes into account the level of our current stage of development," Wu said.
Wu said that air quality reports should come from a network of monitoring stations. The U.S. readings for Beijing come from just one monitoring station inside the embassy grounds.
Wu also said that air quality monitoring by foreign diplomats was inconsistent with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and urged diplomats to abide by China's laws and regulations.
Wu's comments were echoed by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin, who told reporters at a regular press briefing later Tuesday that China doesn't mind if foreign missions gather some environmental data for their own use but it doesn't want them publicizing the information.
"Of course, if the foreign embassies want to collect air quality information for their own staff or diplomats, I think that is their own matter, but we believe that this type of information should not released to the public," Liu said.
The top environmental official in Shanghai over the weekend also spoke out on the issue, telling local media that an air quality feed launched last month by the U.S. consulate in Shanghai was illegal.
U.S. Embassy officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Beijing is frequently cloaked in yellow haze. Buildings a couple of blocks away are barely visible. Still, Beijing's official air quality index records the pollution as "light" -- a reading at odds with what many people experience.
China requires concentrations of fine particulate matter called PM2.5 to be kept below daily averages of 75 micrograms per cubic meter -- more than twice as lenient as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's standard of 35 micrograms.
PM2.5 -- particles less than 2.5 micrometers in size, or about 1/30th the width of an average human hair -- are believed to be a health risk because they can lodge deeply in the lungs, and have been linked to increased cardiovascular and respiratory diseases as well as lung cancer.