Concealing pollution in China


Chimneys belch out smoke at the Beijing Capital Steel Plant , which has long been blamed as Beijing's worst polluter, on January 31, 2007 in western suburbs of the Chinese capital.


Andrew Wong

When the air of China's capital is heavily polluted with a smog so thick it sticks to the tongue, Chinese government air readings often tell a much different, cleaner story to the city's millions of residents.

This weekend, as the air monitors operated by the US Embassy in Beijing measured readings that crept into hazardous territory yet again, Chinese netizens began to raise a stink on the microblogging platform Weibo about why US government monitoring systems appear to show much worse conditions than the numbers released by the Chinese government itself. Even the nationalistic Global Times newspaper joined the chorus of disapproval on Monday. Though the paper referred to the air conditions as "foggy," it called for clearer government data on air pollution, something that most people in this city don't have knowledge of or access to, despite the obvious health risks.

Local governments often underplay bad news, the paper said in an editorial, creating the ongoing problem.

"It is probably the same reason why the monitoring standard of the US Embassy is emphasized by netizens," the editorial said. "That means local governments need to establish absolute authority over monitoring pollution without concealing information. If they are defeated by foreign embassies in this regard, they will lose more than just authority in monitoring air quality"