Contingency plans have been announced in the event that Beijing stays as hazy and humid once the Olympics start as it has been the past week.
More cars will be taken off the roads (those whose license plate’s last digit matches the last number of the date) and the alternate day system of car bans will be extended to Tianjin and four urban areas of Hebei, Xinhua says. More than 100 factories in the capital will shut down polluting production or close altogether. Coal-fired power plants and small scale steel mills in Tianjin and Hebei will have to cut production significantly. As we noted earlier (Cleaning Up Beijing’s Dirty Air), up to a third of Beijing’s pollution comes from nearby industrial towns.
The new measures will be put in to effect if air quality is forecast 48 hours ahead to fall short of acceptable standards.
China, it turns out, cut a deal with the International Olympic Committee when negotiating for the Games due to start next month that would prevent the more than 20,000 foreign journalists covering the Games having access to what the authorities consider sensitive web sites.
This conflicts with promises subsequently given to foreign journalists by IOC officials that they would have uncensored internet access.
The usual suspects are proscribed.
These would include the site of New York-based Human Rights in China, which is saying that a local school employee who posted pictures on the net of schools that collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake in May has been detained for a year’s labor reeducation. The authorities can detain people for reeducation for up to four years without formal charges or trial, the Asian edition of the Wall Street Journal notes. Shoddy school construction, and its associated issues of corruption among local officials certainly falls into the sensitive category.
Meanwhile the FT raises the question whether the unprecedented security operation for the Games isn’t being overblown “as cover for a clampdown on a broad range of…groups”.
An update to our earlier post: Pascal Lamy, director-general of the World Trade Organisation, has declared the Doha round of world trade talks dead. There is a link to an audio feed of his statement here.
The finger will continue to be pointed at China, which U.S. trade officials, say at the last moment reversed its support for a compromise deal, but no country is blameless here. Commerce Minister Chen Deming said the U.S. was asking “a price as high as heaven”.
The tragedy is that a lot of good work was done on removing trade-distorting subsidies. In his audio clip, Lamy talks of progress being made on 18 of 20 to-do items at the Geneva summit before the 19th — the trigger point for protections developing countries could impose if they got a surge of food imports once farm tariffs were lowered — topedoed things.
It is too early to say if any of that can be salvaged. Or what lasting damage has been done to the multilateral trade system.
The choice for Beijing is this: scupper the Doha round of world trade talks on behalf of the poorer countries who feel they are being asked to bear the brunt of the lowering of trade barriers necessary to strike a deal, but incur the wrath of the Americans and Europeans for doing so; or help patch up a deal, however imperfect, and play the good world citizen as behooves a leading trade power.
The make or break Geneva summit of trade negotiators is now in its second week and near collapse thanks to an eleventh-hour finger-pointing row between the U.S. and India and China.
China came off the sidelines of the talks for the first time on Monday and knocked the wind out of a compromise proposal put forward at the end of last week by the World Trade Organisation’s director general Pascal Lamy under which developed nations would make cuts to their agricultural subsidies in return for more access to developing countries’ industrial and, potentially, services sectors. That was broadly the original development goals of the round which started, it seems, back when the earth was still cooling.
But, according to Xinhua, Zhang Xiangchen, an official at the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, says China’s position is that “trade-distorting subsidies are illegal while tariffs are legal measures of protection.” In particular, China wants to protect its sugar, cotton and rice sectors with higher tariffs.
More the language of deal breakers than makers.
The first days after authorities took half the cars off the roads of Beijing to improve air quality for the Olympics that we noted in Cleaning Up Beijing’s Air may have been a false dawn.
Between 24th and 28th July pollution levels shot back up above World Health Organization standards having been well below since the 12th.
BBC is reporting that pollution levels have been sufficiently high in recent days that emergency measures are being considered. These could include taking nine out of 10 cars off the roads for the duration of the Games, stopping all construction and closing some factories completely.
China says it is investigating a claim by a Uighur separatist group, the Turkestan Islamic Party — better known as the Islamic Party of East Turkestan (ETIM) — that it was behind several recent attacks, the BBC reports.
The include the May 5 Shanghai bus bombing that killed three, another unspecified Shanghai attack, a tractor-bombing of police in Wenzhou on July 17, a bombing of a Guangzhou plastic factory the same day and the bombings of three buses in Kunming on July 21 that killed at least two that we noted here.
The group has released a video in which Commander Seyfullah said there wold be more to come, according to a transcript from the Washington-based Intel Center: “Our aim is to target the most critical points related to the Olympics. We will try to attack Chinese central cities severely using the tactics that have never been employed.” Commander Seyfullah said the group would focus on the eight cities that were Olympic venues and might use biological weapons.
ETIM is an ethnic Uighur and Muslim separatist group seeking to create an independent state out of heavily Muslim Xinjiang province. It was designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on Washington and New York, though somewhat reluctantly and at the lower of its two levels of designation as Washington wants China to recognize the legitimate rights of the Uighur minority.
Authorities have previously denied the explosions were the work of militants but have warned of threats to the Games. We posted about this in March. Earlier this month, officials said they had broken up five terrorist groups in Xinjiang, and that 82 suspected terrorists had been arrested this year for plotting to sabotage the Beijing Games.
Wal-Mart, the superstore group that is the world’s largest retailer and famously anti-union in its home country of the U.S., has struck pay deals with the officially-sanctioned All China Federation of Trade Unions’ locals in Shenyang and Quanzhou, the FT reports.
A similar deal has been struck in Shenzhen, the Economic Times reports. Such collective bargaining agreements with management are required by the Labour Contract Law that came into effect in January.
The deals ensure a (below inflation) 8% pay rise for employees this year and next. More than 48,500 Wal-Mart employees at 105 stores across the country have been unionized since workers in Quanzhou formed the first Wal-Mart union in 2006 in the face of years of resistance in the country.
While many foreign owned companies now have locally unionized workforces, the ACFTU, the only officially sanctioned union allowed in China, has used Wal-Mart as the vanguard for its campaign to organize at other prominent foreign-owned companies with a history of opposing unions such as Eastman Kodak and Dell.
There is something faintly comical about centrally-planned protests, not that China treats dissent with anything but deadly earnest.
Nonetheless, demonstrations will be permitted in three parks in Beijing during the Olympic games, says Liu Shaowu, director of the organizing committee’s security department.
The Guardian calls the designated spots in Shijie, Zizhuyuan and Ritan parks “protest pens”. Would-be demonstrators will be required to apply for permission from the city’s government and police, the BBC reports, although the mechanism for applying seems hazy.
Previous Olympic cities have had designated protest areas but how willingly China, where anti-government protests legal but rare, has followed suit is a moot point given the pre-Games crackdown on dissent. What Beijing can embrace is the International Olympic Committee’s ban on demonstrations or “political, religious or racial propaganda” at Olympic venues.
Beijing’s pre-Olympic anti-pollution controls went into effect on Sunday and a couple of days on, this Bystander is told, they are having some beneficial effect in making the city less smoggy.
Car drivers may now use their vehicles only on alternate days, new building work has stopped, and, perhaps most importantly, smoke-belching factories around the capital have cut output.
The measures are based on work funded by the U.S.’s Environmental Protection Agency and conducted by the U.S. Energy Department’s Argonne Laboratory, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing and Tsinghua Universities and the University of Tennessee, which collectively modeled contributions to Beijing’s air quality. It was this research that lead to implementation of regional and not just local measures, after industrial cities several hundred kilometers away such as Shijiazhuang, Qingdao, Jinan and Taiyuan were fingered for helping make the capital’s air dirty.
More than a third of the air pollution comes from outside the city, the research found, so tightening the pollution controls in those surrounding cities will help the capital’s residents breathe a bit easier even once the cars are back on the roads in Beijing and construction restarts.
The research report also notes the importance of meteorology and topography to the city’s air quality. As Beijing is typically hot and clammy at this time of year, there isn’t much of a breeze and the hills to the north and west slow the dispersion of pollution, a few more windy or rainy days would really help.
China hopes to top the 32 gold medals it won at the the Athens Olympics four years ago.
That, at least, is its public position. Sports ministry spokesman Zhang Haifeng says: “We do have a target, that is to rank among the top nations in the medals table…We managed that by winning 32 gold medals in Athens and we hope to do better in Beijing.”
Unofficial translation: the goal is to win more medals than the U.S., or any other nation come to that. The full weight of the system had been thrown behind that ambition despite pubic denials.
Researchers at Sheffield Hallam University predict China will win 46 gold medals in Beijing to top the table.
BBC has a telling trend chart: