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Capital Leans On Its Neighbours To Help Clear Olympic Air

Martin Zhou – Updated on Mar 12, 2008 – SCMP

Beijing’s neighbouring provinces have been fully mobilised to help ensure visiting athletes and spectators will not have to hold their breath at the Olympics Games in August, central and provincial officials promised yesterday on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress.

Authorities in Shanxi, Hebei, Tianjin, Inner Mongolia and Shandong have vowed to roll back production in pollution-heavy industries and impose restrictions on traffic that will coincide with Beijing’s massive house-cleaning campaign. It is aimed at ridding the capital of its smoggy skyline – at least temporarily – throughout the August 8-24 Games.

Scientists said airborne pollutants from nearby areas were one of the main contributors to the foul air.

“Shanxi is fully committed to this cause,” said Zhang Baoshun , party boss of the coal-rich territory and deputy to the NPC.

To show his administration was not only talking the talk, Mr Zhang said that since Olympic air quality became part of his agenda last year, provincial authorities had closed 15 power plants with substandard air-quality checks and halted the operation of dozens of pollution-belching coking plants.

At the same time in another corner of the Great Hall of the People, Zhang Lijun , a deputy chief of the State Environmental Protection Agency, the country’s top environmental watchdog, confirmed Hebei and Tianjin would “either suspend or cut back production in some industrial sectors” to help Beijing clear its skies. The other three provinces would focus on reducing coal-related pollution.

But Zhang Lijun did not specify when the capital’s neighbours would have to put various emergency measures into effect.

Zhu Tong , a key member of a panel of scientists advising the Games organisers on tackling air quality problems, said the neighbours would take action “in unison with Beijing’s own schedule of temporary measures”.

Ji Lin , Beijing’s executive deputy mayor, last weekend said a partial car ban, intended to move up to half of the city’s 3 million cars off the streets, would begin in late July.

Beijing has also slashed industrial pollution under its own jurisdiction with a handful of large steel mills in coking plants in its suburbs due to come to a standstill in the summer.

But curtailing economic activity in the interests of the Olympics has not won universal support.

Last month, a former senior Shanxi provincial official demanded Games organisers compensate neighbouring provinces for the diversion of precious water resources to the city for the smooth running of the Olympics.

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