China has again called on the US embassy and its consulates to stop publishing air quality data in Chinese cities. The demand came after the US responded to Chinese environmental authorities' earlier criticism by denying it was illegal and welcoming China to do the same in the US.
At a press conference yesterday, Liu Weimin, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said China has no interest in releasing air pollution readings in the US, and reiterated that it was against international conventions and Chinese laws for foreign embassies to monitor air quality and release pollution data online.
"Foreign embassies and consulates are neither legally qualified nor professionally capable of conducting environmental monitoring in China," said Liu, explaining that it is against the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and they should "respect Chinese laws and stop acting irresponsibly."
His remarks echo those of Wu Xiaoqing, vice minister of the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), who said Tuesday that the actions constitute interference in China's domestic affairs.
Mark Toner, deputy spokesperson with the US Department of State, denied at a news briefing on Tuesday that the US embassy has interfered with Chinese internal affairs, or that they have violated the Vienna Conventions.
"This is a service that we provide to Americans, both who work in the embassy community as well as Americans who live in China," Toner said, according to the US Department of State's website. "Air pollution, quite frankly, is a problem in many cities and regions in China."
He said the US will have no objections if China also wants to publish air quality information in US cities, adding that the US embassy and consulates have no plans to stop providing the service in China.
The US has been monitoring air quality in Beijing and Guangzhou since 1998, by installing an air quality monitor in the embassy and consulate area to measure the concentration of PM2.5.
While some experts say it is inappropriate for foreign embassies to make misleading assessments of air quality readings collected from a single monitoring station that do not represent the whole city, many Chinese Web users have sided with the foreign embassies, saying the Chinese government needs to improve its credibility with better air pollution control.
"The Chinese government should face the problem, be responsible, and release accurate and timely air quality updates to both Chinese and foreign residents in China," said Ren Yi, a verified Sina Weibo user with the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.