CHINA: Pollution Quarrel Fueled by Social Media

On June 5th, Chinese officials made clear that foreign embassies had better cease publishing their ownreports and estimates on the air quality of China. Beijing has been especially irritated by the increasingly high-profile U.S. Embassy Twitter feed, which tracks pollution in Beijing and has accumulated more than 19,000 followers.

Such numbers have garnered much official attention, and the account is currently under fire from the Chinese government.  Liu Weimin, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, announced that “foreign embassies and consulates are not legally qualified to conduct environmental monitoring and release this sort of data in China, nor do they have the professional capacity and conditions to do so.”

China’s air quality has been rightly rated by the US Embassy in Beijing as “hazardous” on a number of occasions.  In contrast, Beijing’s own Environmental Protection Bureau classified this same pollution as “slight”.  The vice-minister at the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Wu Xiaoqing, argues that environmental standards should be compared to the level of the country’s economic development and technology, not simply the quantity of air pollution emitted. The international debate over pollution control is no new quarrel, but social media outlets like Twitter have made such information more readily available, opening up an entirely new medium through which the issue may unfold. Some day perhaps, the Chinese government will decide it has to make its peace with today’s technological reality.

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