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August 4th, 2008:

HK Suppliers To Lower Pollutant Emission During Games

Monday, 04 August 2008 – Macau Daily Times

Hong Kong’s two electricity suppliers will cut their emissions of air pollutants by increasing the use of natural gas during the Olympic equestrian events, a government spokesman said yesterday.

The companies, Hong Kong Electric and CLP Power, will reduce the burning of coal, a major source of air pollution in the southern Chinese city, at their plants, the government said.

“We have already made proper arrangements with the two electric power companies. Throughout the equestrian events, they will increase the use of natural gas by 20 percent,” Edward Yau, Hong Kong’s secretary for the environment, told local broadcaster RTHK.

“We hope the measure will help improve Hong Kong’s air quality,” he said.

Concerns for the health of Olympic athletes and horses competing at the equestrian events were raised after pollution levels hit record highs in Beijing and Hong Kong last week.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong was making arrangements for unstable weather forecast for the first few days of the equestrian events, which begin August 9.

The Hong Kong Kong Observatory told RTHK it will likely rain and a typhoon was possible.

The observatory said yesterday in a statement it will issue additional detailed weather forecasts for the competition venues and has provided seven-day forecasts to help with planning.

A system to measure heat stress — the combined effect of temperature, humidity, wind and solar radiation — has also been set up at the equestrian venue, the observatory said.

Blue Sky Greets Athletes In Beijing

Shi Jiangtao in Beijing – SCMP – Updated on Aug 04, 2008

World athletes arriving in Beijing at the weekend were greeted by bright sunshine and blue skies, raising hopes of more clear air for the capital city in the last four days before the opening of the Olympics on Friday.

The Olympic host city, which has been embarrassed by persistent smog in the lead-up to the Games, basked under clear skies again yesterday, with air quality in the 24 hours to midday on Sunday pronounced “good” by national standards.

The sky was clear for three straight days from Friday after humid smog that had hung over the city for days was cleared by rainstorms and wind.

Beijing has removed almost half of its 3.3 million cars from the road, halted construction work and shut down polluting factories.

Fan Yuansheng, a top pollution-control official at the Ministry of Environmental Protection, said additional traffic and production bans might not be needed to ensure good air quality for the Games.

“Air quality has been fairly good in the past few days after a flurry of contingency measures were adopted. I don’t think we are very likely to see extremely unfavourable conditions.”

Authorities announced a contingency plan last week under which 200,000 more cars would be taken off the road and more than 100 factories closed in Beijing if smog hit again.

About 700,000 cars in Tianjin and 900,000 vehicles in four cities in Hebei would also be banned from the road to ensure clear skies for the Olympics, according to Mr Fan, director of the ministry’s pollution control department.

“I am not saying the plan will not be activated at all, but I don’t expect it. But if we meet extremely bad weather conditions, which worsen air pollution, we will still have to kick in the plan after the approval of the State Council,” he said.

Meanwhile, Premier Wen Jiabao said China was a responsible country and would honour all of its international commitments, including one to host the “green Games”.

“Beijing will remain clean after the Olympics and the city will be clean for ever,” he said, in an apparent bid to ease concerns that smog would return after the temporary bans for the Games were lifted.

Echoing Mr Wen, Mr Fan said that although many contingency measures to cut pollution were deemed short-lived, authorities would learn from the Games experience to tackle pollution in the long term.

More than a dozen environmental groups in Beijing made a joint appeal yesterday, calling on Beijingers to leave their cars at home on Friday to ensure good air quality for the opening of the Games.

Meanwhile, top officials from the Beijing Meteorological Bureau predicted thunder and rain were likely on the day of the opening ceremony, and warned typhoons could disrupt events in host cities such as Qingdao, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong, Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah said Hongkong Electric and CLP Power had agreed to increase the use of natural gas during the events in an effort to boost air quality during the Olympics and Paralympics

Face Up To The Foreign Media More Often

Wang Xiangwei – SCMP – Updated on Aug 04, 2008

President Hu Jintao’s rare interview on Friday with a select group of foreign reporters, just one week before the Olympic Games, was newsworthy, but not because Mr Hu broke any news.

It was more about timing and the fact he spent 70 minutes answering questions from about 25 foreign media organisations carefully selected to represent the diversity of nearly 20,000 foreign journalists from every corner of the world who have converged on Beijing to cover the Games.

Timing is very important. Just one week ahead of the Games, the mainland authorities had received a barrage of negative publicity in the foreign media over their efforts to censor internet access, pollution in the capital, and the mainland’s human rights record.

Mr Hu’s face-to-face meeting with foreign journalists will help the mainland regain the upper hand in the public relations battle and help dispel widespread scepticism on whether various pledges Beijing made to win the Games will continue afterwards. It was more than a coincidence that authorities unblocked internet access to sites including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders on the day of Mr Hu’s media meeting.

It is heartening to learn that Mr Hu has pledged to pursue comprehensive economic and political reforms after the Olympics.

As one of the Olympic legacies, he promised that the mainland would strive to promote environmental protection to “make the sky bluer, the land greener and the water clearer”, and to spread the conservation culture to every corner of the country.

This should also be comforting to millions of long-suffering residents in the capital who cannot help wonder about pollution in post-Olympic days when IOC officials and athletes have left town, banned vehicles are back on the roads, and hundreds of polluting factories in Beijing and surrounding provinces resume production.

The overseas media has invariably described Mr Hu’s press interview as “rare”.

This may well be Mr Hu’s longest interview to a relatively big group of foreign journalists in his nearly six years as China’s top leader.

Previously, Mr Hu had been interviewed by foreign media only a few times, mostly in the form of him standing along with foreign heads of state addressing a few questions from reporters, and courtesy meetings with foreign journalists ahead of his visit to their countries.

The positive reactions from the media should encourage Mr Hu and other top leaders to meet the foreign media more frequently and more openly in the future.

Such meetings are crucial to enable the outside world to gain a better and more authoritative understanding of the mainland’s policies and positions, particularly at a time when its economic rise has led to concerns and misunderstandings of its intentions in many parts of the world. The top leaders are known as being averse to giving interviews, not only to overseas journalists but also to mainland journalists, over whom they have total control on what they can or cannot write.

When they do give interviews, the events are carefully scripted with questions screened and replies prepared in advance.

They often appear motionless and emotionless, lacking in gesture or facial expressions, leading some overseas media to describe mainland leaders as “wooden” or “staid”.

Premier Wen Jiabao is an exception.

In addition to the annual press conference in March following the plenary session of the National People’s Congress, where he speaks with plenty of gestures and emotion, Mr Wen often gives impromptu press briefings to Hong Kong reporters during his visits overseas, although, curiously, many of his remarks are not picked up by the mainland press.

The top leaders’ aversion to overseas reporters is naturally shared by other mainland officials. Guangdong party secretary Wang Yang jokingly told a group of top editors of Hong Kong media organisations last month that there was a popular saying on the mainland that people had three things to guard against: fire, theft and reporters.

This mentality needs to change. Beijing’s hosting of the Olympics is intended to showcase a rising China to be open, confident, mature and magnanimous.

There is no better way to convey that message and reduce misunderstanding than for top mainland leaders to face the foreign media more frequently.