China’s pollution readings rise 5 percent in January to February

The government has previously blamed unfavorable weather conditions for the poor air quality over the period. (File/AFP)
Updated 21 March 2019

China’s pollution readings rise 5 percent in January to February

  • China forced smog-prone northern cities to implement special emissions restrictions from October 2018 to March 2019
  • The ministry has promised to crack down on regions that fail to meet targets

SHANGHAI: China’s average concentrations of lung-damaging particles known as PM2.5 rose by 5.2 percent in the first two months of the year, the environment ministry said on Thursday, casting doubt over the country’s ability to meet winter targets.
The nation’s average PM2.5 readings came in at 61 micrograms per cubic meter for January and February, according to a Ministry of Ecology and Environment survey of 337 cities, with only 83 reaching the national standard of 35 micrograms.
Levels of PM2.5 at 28 cities in the key pollution control region of Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei soared 24 percent over the two-month period from the same time a year ago to an average of 108 micrograms, more than 10 times 10 micrograms recommended as safe by the World Health Organization.
Meanwhile, PM2.5 levels in the 11 cities of the Fenwei Plain, another major smog control zone, surged by 26.6 percent over the period, hitting an average of 119 micrograms.
China forced smog-prone northern cities to implement special emissions restrictions from October 2018 to March 2019 in order to offset rising levels of coal combustion from state heating systems during the winter.
But Reuters calculations based on official data showed that PM2.5 readings in the 39 key northern cities still rose 13 percent over the October-February period.
The 39 cities are under pressure to make year-on-year PM2.5 cuts of around 3 percent from October to March, but Reuters calculations show that only three — Changzhi and Luliang in Shanxi province, and Jining in Shandong — were on course to meet their targets at the end of last month.
The government has previously blamed unfavorable weather conditions for the poor air quality over the period, saying that “a weak El Nino effect” and a subsequent increase in temperature and humidity has made it harder to disperse emissions.
The ministry has promised to crack down on regions that fail to meet targets, regardless of weather conditions, but it remains unclear what punishments they will face.
The provinces of Hebei and Shanxi, where eight of China’s smoggiest cities were located in 2018, have established a “punishment and reward system” in which the worst-performing districts pay fines to regions that have performed the best.
On Wednesday, Hebei published a list of 14 districts that failed to meet 2018 targets, including major industrial zones in Tangshan, China’s biggest steel-producing city.
Communist Party bosses from each of the 14 districts were summoned to the provincial environmental protection bureau to receive public criticism, the provincial government said in a notice.


Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

Updated 17 November 2019

Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

  • Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June
  • China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police Monday warned for the first time that they may use “live rounds” after pro-democracy protesters fired arrows and threw petrol bombs at officers at a beseiged university campus, as the crisis engulfing the city veered deeper into danger.
Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June, with many in the city of 7.5 million people venting fury at eroding freedoms under Chinese rule.
China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent, and there have been concerns that Beijing could send in troops to put an end to the spiralling unrest.
Three protesters have been shot by armed police in the unrelenting months of protests. But all in scuffles as chaotic street clashes played out — and without such warnings being given.
A day of intense clashes, which saw a police officer struck in the leg by an arrow and protesters meet police tear gas with volleys of petrol bombs, intensified as night fell.
Clashes rolled across Kowloon, with the epicenter around the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), where scores of defiant demonstrators set large fires to prevent police from conducting a threatened raid on the campus.
They hunkered down under umbrellas from occasional fire from water cannon and hurled molotov cocktails at an armored police vehicle, leaving it ablaze on a flyover near the campus.
Police declared the campus a “riot” scene — a rioting conviction carries up to 10 years in jail — and blocked exits as spokesman Louis Lau issued a stark warning in a Facebook live broadcast.
“I hereby warn rioters not to use petrol bombs, arrows, cars or any deadly weapons to attack police officers,” he said.
“If they continue such dangerous actions, we would have no choice but to use the minimum force necessary, including live rounds, to fire back.”
Police said they fired at a car late Sunday that had driven at a line of officers near the campus — but the vehicle reversed and escaped.
Protesters at the campus appeared resolute — a twist in tactics by a leaderless movement so far defined by its fluid, unpredictable nature.
“I feel scared. There’s no way out, all I can do is fight to the end,” said one protester joining the barricade in front of the university building.
“We need a base to keep our gear and have some rest at night before another fight in the morning,” another called Kason, 23, told AFP.
On Sunday, activists parried attempts by police to break through into the PolyU campus, firing rocks from a homemade catapult from the university roof, while an AFP reporter saw a team of masked archers — several carrying sports bows — patrolling the campus.
Violence has worsened in recent days, with two men killed in separate incidents linked to the protests this month.
Chinese President Xi Jinping this week issued his most strident comments on the crisis, saying it threatened the “one country, two systems” model under which Hong Kong has been ruled since the 1997 handover from Britain.
Demonstrators last week engineered a “Blossom Everywhere” campaign of blockades and vandalism, which forced the police to draft in prison officers as reinforcements, shut down large chunks of Hong Kong’s train network and close schools and shopping malls.
The movement, characterised by its fluidity and unpredictability, has started to coagulate in fixed locations, showing the protesters’ ability to switch tactics.
The protests started against a now-shelved bill to allow extradition to China but have billowed to encompass wider issues such as perceived police brutality and calls for universal suffrage in the former British colony.
The financial hub has been nudged into a recession by the unrelenting turmoil.
A poster circulating on social media called for the “dawn action” to continue on Monday.
“Get up early, directly target the regime, squeeze the economy to increase pressure,” it said.
The education bureau said schools will remain closed again on Monday.
Earlier on Sunday, dozens of government supporters gathered to clear barricades near the university campus — a sign of the divisions slicing through the city.
Many residents are wearied by the sapping protests. Others support the Chinese-backed city government.
Some applauded a Saturday clean-up by Chinese troops from a garrison of the People’s Liberation Army in Kowloon.
The garrison is usually confined to the barracks under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, although it can be deployed at the request of the city’s government to help with public order breakdown or natural disasters.
Hong Kong’s government, which presides over a city that enjoys greater freedoms than the mainland, said it did not ask the PLA for help on Saturday.
The choreographed troop movement “has only compounded the impression that Beijing has simply ignored” Hong Kong’s unique political system, said analyst Dixon Sing.