China to foreign embassies: Stop publicly rating our air

China reportedly asks foreign embassies to stop publicly rating its air

This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

China on Tuesday reportedly told foreign embassies to stop publicly putting out their own readings on Chinese air pollution.

Only the Chinese government is authorized to monitor and publish air quality information, said Vice Environmental Minister Wu Xiaoqing, according to the Associated Press.

Though China didn't single out the United States, the new, publicized demand appears to be aimed at the U.S. embassy in Beijing, which posts its readings on Beijing air pollution on its Twitter feed.

The U.S. tracks tinier particles than China, often resulting in much higher readings than those released by Chinese officials, The Times' Barbara Demick wrote in October. On one day last October, the U.S. rated Beijing air pollution as off-the-charts, while China said it was merely "slightly polluted."

The dueling ratings have led to friction between Chinese officials and Americans in the country, Demick wrote:

When an American doctor at Beijing United Family Hospital recommended this month on his blog that people wear face masks, the Communist Party-affiliated Global Times newspaper ran an article rebuking him.

The newspaper quoted an anonymous doctor at Peking University People's Hospital as saying, "The suggestion to wear air masks will make trouble out of nothing, as we've had polluted air for a long time, and we shouldn't be living with an American standard."

Diplomatic cables released this year through WikiLeaks reveal that the Chinese government has asked the U.S. Embassy to stop publishing its data, which is posted hourly on Twitter at @beijingair, an account that has 9,200 followers.

In July 2009, a Foreign Ministry official complained that because the U.S. data conflicted with China's, they were causing "confusion" and undesirable "social consequences."

Though China has raised its objections quietly before, Tuesday marks the first time that China has brought up the dispute so publicly, the AP reported. But the more aggressive step doesn't appear to have worked. So far, the U.S. Embassy has not stopped posting its air pollution readings on Twitter.

[Updated 2:18 p.m. June 5: A U.S. State Department spokesman told reporters Tuesday that the pollution readings were a service for Americans living in China, much like pollution measures available in U.S. cities, and that they had no plans to stop providing them.]

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: A man rides an electric bike across a street shrouded by haze in Beijing in January. Credit: Andy Wong / Associated Press

 
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