To Beijing’s 21 million residents, the city’s air pollution is a health hazard. To the city’s leaders, it’s an embarrassment. So as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit (Apec) begins this week in the city, authorities have been scrambling to keep the air clean, temporarily restricting the operation of cars, factories, construction sites — and even crematoriums.
More than 20 world leaders, including Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin and Shinzo Abe of Japan, will attend the major international meeting to discuss regional trade and investment deals. Beijing officials will not stand to see them photographed in masks.
According to state media, authorities have shut factories within 125 miles (200km) of the city centre, and ordered all construction work to stop during the summit. Cars with even and odd numbered licence plates will be allowed on the road only on alternate days. Schools and government offices have been granted a six-day holiday during the event, but will have to make up the time on weekends. Residents will be granted free admission to tourist attractions in neighbouring Hebei province, a clear attempt to lure them out of town.
According to the Beijing News, the well-known Babaoshan crematorium will ban mourners from incinerating funeral clothes – a common sacrificial offering meant to keep the dead clothed in the afterlife – during the first two weeks of November. “Please forgive any inconvenience,” the crematorium’s management wrote on a large blue and white sign.
The summit will be held in a series of newly constructed hotels and convention centres on the shore of Yanqi lake in Huairou district, a 965 sq mile swath of farming villages and low-lying mountains about a two-hour drive from the city centre.
A hotel employee in Huairou said that for the last two weeks authorities have been announcing new restrictions via speakers placed in the district’s villages, urging residents to refrain from making open-air fires and to clean up their rubbish. “They’re doing so much construction in [Yanqing],” said the hotel worker, who only gave her surname as He. “Across the street [from the main gate] they’re restoring buildings, they’re even restoring a section of the Great Wall [of China]. The streets are really empty. There are security guards at every single gate.”
Beijing has also boosted security, with countless inspections, checkpoints and patrols. In July, Beijing’s public security chief, Fu Zhenghua. told state media that security preparations for Apec would be “on a par with the 2008 Olympics”.
Authorities have installed hundreds of security cameras in Huairou, as well as “22 checkpoints, 38 temporary roadblocks and 140 rural roadblocks” throughout the city, according to the official newswire Xinhua. Police were given “bulletproof helmets, knife-proof uniforms and explosion-proof blankets” in advance of the meeting, it reported.
Air pollution levels in the capital reached “hazardous” levels throughout much of October, normally a relatively unpolluted time because of high winds and low temperatures. Smog engulfed the city during a marathonon 19 October, leading many of its 30,000 participants to run the course in masks.
Despite the disruptions to daily life, local authorities are encouraging Beijing residents to get excited about the event. “Welcome Apec, marvellous Beijingers,” say massive banners hung at intersections and subway stations. Buses are issuing Apec commemorative tickets displaying the city skyline to passengers. Landscapers will replace 450,000 flower pots along Chang’an Avenue, the city’s central thoroughfare, according to state media.
Yet on Tuesday, the air was a gauzy white, registering as “very unhealthy” on the US embassy’s air quality scale – a harsh reminder of the city’s pollution, despite the government’s best efforts to hide it.