BEIJING — China told foreign embassies Tuesday to stop publishing their own reports on air quality in the country, escalating its objections to a popular U.S. EmbassyTwitter feed that tracks pollution in smoggy Beijing.
Only the Chinese government is authorized to monitor and publish air-quality information and data from other sources may not be standardized or rigorous, Wu Xiaoqing, a vice environmental minister, told reporters.
China has long taken issue with the U.S. Embassy’s postings of hourly readings of Beijing’s air quality on a Twitter feed with more than 19,000 followers since 2008. But its past objections were raised quietly.
U.S. Embassy officials did not immediately comment Tuesday, but the Twitter feed was operating normally. Its readings are based on a single monitoring station within embassy grounds, and pollution levels are rated according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standard that is more stringent than the one used by the Chinese government.
For instance, the U.S. Embassy on Tuesday reported 47 micrograms of fine particulate matter - particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in size, or about 1/30th the width of an average human hair - in the air and said the level was “unhealthy for sensitive groups.”
Readings from the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau’s 27 monitoring stations ranged between 51 to 79 micrograms but categorized all those levels as “good.”
The Beijing government only began reporting PM2.5 earlier this year after long-standing public and international criticism that Chinese standards were insufficient.
The government appears frustrated that there are now dueling readings for air quality and that the U.S. readings underscore the fact that pollution levels considered unhealthy in the U.S. are classified as good by China.
Later, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin echoed Mr. Wu’s remarks, saying at a regular press briefing that China objects to the publicity rather than the gathering of the environmental data.
“Of course, if the foreign embassies want to collect air-quality information for their own staff or diplomats, I think that is their own matter, but we believe that this type of information should not released to the public,” Mr. Liu said.
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