Despite Beijing’s extensive efforts to cast away any trace of air pollution ahead of the APEC summit by shuttering hundreds of factories, ordering vehicles off the road and politely kicking residents out with an impromptu five-day holiday, the results were not entirely successful.
On Monday afternoon, the US Embassy air quality monitor reported readings around 157 in the capital, which the embassy classifies as being “unhealthy”. Seeing as most diplomatic leaders (or human beings in general) aren’t keen on breathing in a lung-full of PM2.5 particulates, the Chinese government decided not let them know they were, by blocking the American monitoring data.
Beijing residents attempting to access the air quality monitoring site www.beijingair.com on Monday evening were greeted with this message: “Upon instructions from the authorities, for this month’s air quality data, please refer to the figure by Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau […] We wish the APEC summit a great success.”
A representative from the Beijing-based Fresh Ideas studio, which handles the China Air Quality Index, confirmed with the Wall Street Journal that the US readings were indeed withheld at the government’s request.
“We received a notice from relevant Beijing government authorities saying it was not permitted to include air quality data from the U.S. Embassy,” a Fresh-Ideas representative told The Wall Street Journal in an email. It added that the readings were removed around noon Monday.
A comparison of readings suggests why: According to the Chinese government’s data, the average air-quality reading for the city was 96, or “good,” on Monday evening. The reading from the U.S. embassy: an “unhealthy” 180.
— WSJ China Real Time (@ChinaRealTime) November 11, 2014
China and the US use different standards for determining air quality, as we’ve noted in the past, and with Beijing’s lowered benchmark, it’s no surprise that the government would prefer for visitors to see smaller, less threatening numbers should they choose to check the readings on their phones.
Most netizens’ opinions on the matter could be summed up with one user’s remark that “We can’t fix the smog, so we fix the smog report,” according to the Washington Post.
Beijing residents still seem to be grateful for the breathable air as a result of the diplomatic meeting, however, and have dub the sky’s quality as “APEC blue” (during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing it was “Olympic blue”).
— Pablo M. Díez (@PabloDiez_ABC) November 8, 2014
— Anna (@Anna0385) November 6, 2014
“He's not that into you, he's just #APECblue.”
— Amy Ly (@amyly) November 7, 2014
— Shen Lily (@shenlilypad) November 12, 2014
[Image via Xinhua]