APEC Summit: Polluters to be Punished, Dissidents Tightly Controlled

In effort to create a more comfortable environment for the 20+ foreign leaders that will be in town for the summit, Beijing is trying to cut air pollution by 40%. To reach this goal, the city has ordered industrial, construction, crematory, and barbecue halts; enacted alternate driving days for those with even and odd license plates; and supplemented the city with an extra “Golden Week” to keep students and government workers from commuting. At the beginning of the week, these efforts seemed not to have been made in vain—Beijing’s skies were unseasonably blue.  A report from AFP looks at a new term being used by netizens to describe the clear skies: “APEC blue”:

The government-led effort has triggered an unexpected backlash among the country’s social media users, many of whom have taken to the popular platforms Weibo and WeChat to ridicule the all-out push that has abruptly cleared the capital’s skies.

A message circulating widely on the Chinese mobile messaging app WeChat this week defined the new phrase “APEC blue” as “something that is beautiful but fleeting and ultimately inauthentic”.

On Sina Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter, one user wrote Friday: “Many plants in polluting industries have halted production without any hesitation in order to save face for Beijing during APEC, when leaders of other countries are visiting.”

“What does this mean?” the user asked. “Pollution isn’t an uncontrollable problem; the key is that the health of ordinary people isn’t as important as saving the government’s face!” […] [Source]

When it became clear that the latter part of the week was shaping up to be smoggy despite these measures, emergency pollution reduction efforts were expended to a larger geographic area. A report from the New York Times notes that, after inspections found many firms were ignoring the anti-pollution orders, several government and business leaders are facing punishment. Jess Macy Yu reports:

On Friday, The Economic Daily reported that 24 officials in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei Province, which encircles Beijing, would be disciplined for their failure to control levels, and that five leaders of the most-polluting companies in the city would face administrative detention and fines.

Inspection tours, which were carried out on Wednesday by the Ministry of Environmental Protection in Beijing and surrounding regions to check air quality, identified dozens of workplaces in Shijiazhuang in violation of pollution control regulations. The inspection teams found that 33 enterprises in Shijiazhuang had not halted or cut back on production as directed, and that work had continued as usual at 18 construction sites. In addition, the inspectors reported that road dust in the city exceeded acceptable levels, and that the burning of trash and straw was rampant. [Source]

A recent study found that smog caused by coal consumption was responsible for 670,000 deaths in China in 2012, and the central government this week announced carbon emission caps on the steel and cement industries.

Security has also been extra tight in the city ahead of the APEC summit. As has been the case in the past, measures to keep out of the spotlight are part of the heightened package. High-profile human rights activist Hu Jia told AFP that the restrictions he’s faced this time around are “worse than prison”:

The measures imposed on dissidents ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) gathering that starts on Monday are the worst since a smothering security clampdown for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said activist .

Hu has campaigned on environmental and HIV-related causes, among others, and was previously jailed for three years on subversion charges.

He has since intermittently been under house arrest, with his latest confinement coming after he voiced support for pro-democracy protests in the southern Chinese city of Hong Kong.

“The restrictions I’ve faced under house arrest during APEC are worse than when I was in prison,” he said. “At least then I had the right to see my family and loved ones.” [Source]

Hu’s comments follow a White House statement expressing “deep concern” over China’s treatment of human rights activists. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Beijing today, and President Obama will be traveling to Beijing Monday, where he will engage in one-on-one talks with President Xi Jinping. The Washington Post reports that “the issue of human rights is not the centerpiece China has been planning for at the two-day APEC conference that begins Monday.”