Smog gets in the way of Beijing's efforts to deliver blue skies

A policeman in a face mask at Tiananmen Square as smog enveloped Beijing yesterday, defying efforts to clear the air for the Chinese Communist Party's ongoing congress.
A policeman in a face mask at Tiananmen Square as smog enveloped Beijing yesterday, defying efforts to clear the air for the Chinese Communist Party's ongoing congress.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BEIJING • Beijingers are going without barbecues. Construction sites have halted work. Factories hundreds of kilometres away have halted production.

Despite all-out efforts to give the Chinese Communist Party blue skies for its twice-a-decade congress, Beijing is once again shrouded in smog.

The counts of PM2.5 - harmful microscopic particles that penetrate deep into the lungs - reached 115 yesterday afternoon, according to readings from the US Embassy.

The capital typically enjoys an unusual succession of clear days when the party holds major events, with smoke-churning factories ordered to shut down.

Even restaurants famous for flavourful shish kebabs turned off their barbecues, with a waiter telling diners at one eatery this week that the lamb delicacies would be off the menu during the 19th Party Congress.

President Xi Jinping had invoked the fight against air pollution during his wide-ranging speech to open the congress on Wednesday.

"We need to prevent pollution from its source, continue the action against air pollution, and win the battle for blue skies," Mr Xi said.

But the smog appeared to have not received the party directive as it enveloped the city all week, prompting many Beijingers to don masks for protection.

"It looked polluted out the window, so I put on my mask," said Ms Euphie Zheng, on the way to her IT job in central Beijing.

China's national air quality forecasting system attributed the pollution to low atmospheric pressure and weak winds, with "medium to heavy pollution" forecast for today in the region.

For the party congress, "I was expecting blue skies", said Ms Primavera Liu, a 33-year-old translator, speaking through a mask.

She did not think the smog would affect the political machinations under way.

"Xi's probably used to the pollution," she said. "It's normal."

This winter, Beijing and surrounding provinces have introduced new restrictions on industrial production to fight pollution.

Ms Liu, a native of industrial Tangshan, 180km east of Beijing, was not hopeful.

"The factories don't follow orders," she said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2017, with the headline 'Smog gets in the way of Beijing's efforts to deliver blue skies'. Print Edition | Subscribe