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China’s APEC Challenge: Clearing the Air

Oct 28 , 2014

In two weeks, leaders from both sides of the Pacific Ocean will converge in Beijing for the 22nd annual APEC Economic Leader’s Meeting. Beijing has made no secret of the importance it places on this summit; the successful hosting of this international event will be another symbol of China’s national power and influence. But diplomatic concerns aside, China will have to scramble to make sure there isn’t an uninvited guest on the scene – blankets of thick, grey smog.

It’s been another smoggy start to the winter in Beijing. Last week, the Beijing marathon took place amidst spiking levels of pollution. According to the U.S. embassy’s air quality monitor, on the day of the marathon levels of PM2.5 (fine particulate matter pollution) peaked at 400 micrograms per cubic meter – well above the WHO-recommended maximum of 25 micrograms per cubic meter. Even China’s National Meteorological Center warned against outdoor activity. Despite this, marathon organizers declined to cancel the event, earning themselves heavy criticism from foreign media outlets.

China’s government is trying to avoid another high-profile display of severe pollution during this November’s APEC summit. The leaders’ meeting, to be held from November 10-11 in Beijing, is one of China’s top diplomatic priorities for 2014. Having the marquee event take place under a haze of smog would be embarrassing for China’s leaders, particularly given their recent focus on cleaning up the environment. Thus, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli recently called ensuring good air quality for the APEC summit the “priority of priorities” for China. Making sure the smog lifts for the high-profile event involves “tremendous pressure and challenge,” Zhang added.

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