China tells US to stop tweets on Beijing's bad air
Beijing: China told foreign embassies on Tuesday to stop publishing their own reports on air quality in the country, escalating its objections to a popular US Embassy Twitter feed that tracks pollution in smoggy Beijing.
Only the Chinese government is authorised to monitor and publish air quality information and data from other sources may not be standardised or rigorous, Wu Xiaoqing, a vice environmental minister, told reporters.
China has long taken issue with the US Embassy's postings of hourly readings of Beijing's air quality on a Twitter feed with more than 19,000 followers since 2008. But its past objections were raised quietly. US consulates in Shanghai and Guangzhou also post readings of the cities' air quality on Twitter.
The Twitter feeds were operating normally today, and an embassy spokesman in Beijing said the air quality reports were meant to inform Americans living in the three Chinese cities.
The air quality readings in Beijing are based on a single monitoring station within embassy grounds, and pollution levels are rated according to a US Environmental Protection Agency standard that is more stringent than the one used by the Chinese government.
For instance, the US Embassy today reported 47 microgrammes of fine particulate matter, particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometres in size, or about 1/30th the width of an average human hair, in the air and said the level was "unhealthy for sensitive groups." Readings from Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau's 27 monitoring stations ranged between 51 to 79 microgrammes but categorised all those levels as "good."
The Beijing government only began reporting PM2.5 earlier this year after long-standing public and international criticism of its lack of transparency about its air quality.
The government appears frustrated that there are now dueling readings for air quality and that the US readings underscore the fact that pollution levels considered unhealthy in the US are classified as good by China.
Wu said it isn't fair to judge Chinese air by American standards because China is a developing country and noted that US environmental guidelines have become more stringent over time.
The standard China uses "takes into account the level of our current stage of development," Wu said.
Wu also said that air quality monitoring by foreign diplomats was inconsistent with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and urged diplomats to abide by China's laws and regulations.
It is unclear if other nations monitor and publicise their readings of air quality in Chinese cities, but local Chinese have used the US readings to prod their government into publishing more detailed pollution data.