The CCTV building in Beijing is shrouded in fog, on March 17. Chronic air pollution has prompted municipal officials to take tougher measures, including curbing automobile numbers and detecting PM2.5. Photo: CFP
The Ministry of Environmental Protection Tuesday asked a few embassies in China to stop publishing PM2.5 monitoring data, saying the action is not in line with international practice and violates related diplomatic treaties.
Though the ministry didn't specifically say so, it is apparently referring to the US embassy in China. Since last year, PM2.5 data released by the US embassy has constantly become a social topic. Their data has been cited by some Chinese as evidence of domestic agencies fabricating data and proof of the ineffectiveness of environmental protection measures.
Data published by the US embassy is based on air quality within the embassy and is not a result of specialized surveillance. It is the Chinese government's right to monitor local air quality and release related data. The Ministry of Environmental Protection has raised a valid request.
Speculation abounds that the US embassy publishes PM 2.5 data so it can request higher air pollution compensation for its American staff. The possibility of this incentive should not be completely ruled out.
Whether the US embassy's monitoring is based on its own interests or concern for China's public affairs, it is unprecedented for the public's attention and attitude on air quality to be shaped by incomplete information published by diplomats.
Granted, the US embassy has set a higher goal for China's environmental protection. PM 2.5 has since become a buzz word in China and the public is discussing the issue using specialized environmental protection terminology. Perhaps that is the reason why Chinese authorities and the media didn't raise too much of a fuss with the embassy to begin with.
But while environmental protection authorities are speeding up air quality monitoring, US embassy data has been regarded as a standard and often cited by netizens to question the accuracy of official figures.
The US embassy is involving itself in a contentious domestic issue, and continues to do so. It is pressing China to accept an action in violation of diplomatic treaties. Chinese authorities should negotiate with the US embassy. It is also in the interests of broader China-US relations.
But Chinese government agencies have good reason to reflect on the disputes. Why do the incomplete figures from the US embassy receive more support than the official data? The government's credibility deficit is all the more serious in the Internet age.
It will take strenuous efforts to win back official credibility. But for now, since the Ministry of Environmental Protection has made the request, it should be realized. Otherwise, it is a diplomatic embarrassment.
'Stop posting pollution data'
The monitoring of air quality and publication of its data by foreign embassies and consulates in China is inaccurate and goes against international conventions and Chinese laws, a top environmental official said Tuesday, urging the agencies to stop such actions.