Emulating the U.S. embassy in Beijing, the U.S. consulate in Shanghai started issuing hourly air quality readings on a dedicated Twitter account May 14. The Shanghai Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau called this a monitor not of the air, but of the city government. On June 1, China News reported that the Shanghai Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau is currently testing its own air quality monitors capable of measuring PM2.5 (particulate matter measuring less than or equal to 2.5 microns in diameter).
Now China says all air quality readings conducted by foreign missions are illegal. Vice Minister of Environmental Protection Wu Xiaoqing said on June 6 that the consulate’s actions constitute a violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and interference in China’s internal affairs.
A diplomat in the Shenyang consulate, “Luo Jie” (罗杰), responded to the latter accusation via Weibo:
LuoJie_USConsulateShenyang: It is our job to monitor our work environment; the consulate issues this information because it is responsible for the health of officials and their families. If the health of our diplomats counts as part of China’s “internal affairs,” things get more complicated.
罗杰_沈阳美领事 ：监测我们工作环境是我们任务；使馆负责官员和家人的健康， 所以发布信息。如果我们外交官的健康是算中国“内政”一部分，那就更复杂了。
Global Times Chief Editor Hu Xijin came to China’s defense on Weibo, following the publication of an editorial in his paper titled “The U.S. Embassy Must Actively Respond to the Environmental Protection Ministry”:
HuXijin: Objectively, the U.S. embassy’s PM2.5 data have pushed China to improve its own air quality monitoring. But it is also objective fact that this data is incomplete. It has recently given vent to the emotions of some Chinese. The embassy must promptly stop [its readings] and not cause any more trouble. It is necessary for diplomatic missions to make these adjustments. The Environmental Protection Ministry’s announcement is objectively seeking realistic results, and its request that the U.S. embassy cease to issue data is reasoned.
胡锡进：美国驻华使馆发布PM2.5数据对中国提高空气质量监测精度、加快大气治理起了客观刺激和推动作用。但该数据的不全面也是客观事实，它成了目前中 国一些人的一个情绪发泄点也是事实。美使馆应及时撤出，不再掺和，这确是外交机构应做的调整。环保部的声明是客观求实的，它要求美使馆停止发布数据有其道 理。
As usual, netizens were ready with witty ripostes for Hu:
LaimangHupan: Why does reading the domestic news feel like reading a bunch of jokes? Before it was ridiculing Gary Locke for being honest and humble, now it’s the differences in PM2.5 readings? It turns out the safest place to be is the enemy camp. Our great nation should go tit-for-tat with and issue PM2.5 readings from our own embassies, make our embassies the safest place for the Occupy Wall Street people, and make our country proud.
Silent59412: I never understand the Environmental Protection Ministry, especially this sentence: “They use their own country’s air quality standards to evaluate ours, which is clearly unreasonable.” Does this mean Americans are higher human beings or lower human beings than Chinese?
Houhuoma: Do you think people are blind? How many days the Beijing skies have been blue? You think ordinary people will only believe your own statements?
SeeStarsHearWaves: The price of oil should respond positively to the requests of the National Development and Reform Commission. Taiwan should take the initiative to return to the motherland.
LawyerYuanYulai: Is the Global Times fighting with the U.S. to win minds, or to win hearts?
keyurain: Can’t we do this the old fashioned way? The U.S. publishes China’s human rights white papers, and we publish theirs. America issues PM2.5 readings in Beijing and Shanghai, we issue readings in Washington and New York.
Vine_Leon: I demand that CCAV stop broadcasting the weather reports from New York and Los Angeles!
For more on the air quality debate in China, read CDT’s PM2.5 posts.
“Netizen Voices” is an original CDT series. If you would like to reuse this content, please follow the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 agreement.