For most Beijingers, next week’s APEC conference means nothing more than a surprise six-day public holiday. Having seen ten hazardous pollution days already this fall, Beijing is determined for blue skies and open roads, but since the weather’s cooling down and pollution levels are climbing, it will take a lot more than just shutting down a few factories.
“China is paying a high cost to maintain its image. It’s making many efforts to erase long-lasting problems of bad air and traffic for the short period of APEC,” said deputy director of the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, Bai Ming. “It just doesn’t need world leaders to see those troubles as it has been trying so hard to restructure the economy.”
Perhaps most importantly for those of us living in Beijing, the APEC conference will be held on November 10-11, but on November 7-12 all government employees, government-related employees, and students will have days off (Golden Week 2, anyone?). Instead, workers will come in on Sunday, November 2, and Saturday, November 15. Tour and ticket sales have jumped since the announcement of the holiday, according to tour service Qunar, and many Beijingers are planning take advantage of the holiday to visit other provinces.
Traffic authorities expect to cut congestion by 35 percent by re-instituting the even-odd license plate regulations, forcing drivers to travel on alternating days. November 3-12 will see 400 new buses added to the public transport system to make up for the inconvenience.
But China’s industry will actually take the largest hit. Ordered to cut their emissions by 30 percent in November, China’s neighboring provinces are looking forward to some intense cuts to meet the requirements. All heavy industry will come to a halt within a 200-kilometer radius of Beijing. Hebei Province’s steel output may fall by 10 percent in November, and will have to keep heating at the lowest acceptable levels to prevent smog. According to the chief economist at Credit Suisse in Hong Kong, APEC will cut China’s total industrial output by 0.3-0.5 percent. For a week of clean air, that’s a huge financial loss.
So why all the fuss?
First of all, APEC, or the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation is an organization that collaborates to promote trade and economic development in countries bordering the Pacific. Established in 1989, APEC has 21 member “economies” (some of the members aren’t considered actual countries). It’s currently working towards the goals of free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific by 2020.
The annual APEC Leader’s Summit, however, is more than just a dinner or two. It gathers leaders from all 21 member economies to discuss and align economic policies, and serves as a floor for addressing issues that require international cooperation. In the last few years, the Leader’s Summit has addressed key issues such as climate change and the promotion of women’s entrepreneurship.
APEC Member Nations
This year, Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be among the leaders coming to Beijing. As the host country, it’s an opportunity to show off the development and progress of the nation, and is a crucial opportunity for China to demonstrate just how environmentally sound they are. Hence the clear skies, new eco-friendly villas and the International Convention Center by Yangqi Lake.
Unsurprisingly, one of the issues set to be discussed at this year’s conference are anti-corruption measures. China’s operation is called”Fox Hunt”, a campaign that aims to ferret out corrupt officials who fled overseas with vast sums of money (think 1.08 trillion USD between 2002 and 2011). With the United States, Australia, and Canada as the most popular destinations for these corrupt officials, China will make a proposal asking APEC for assistance in retrieving the criminals and returning them and the money to China.
Unfortunately, Chinese netizens aren’t all that pleased about the changes for the APEC summit. With many hospitals only running half-days and with huge inconveniences in transportation, it’s not surprising that some people aren’t too thrilled at the costs of a conference for an organization that few have heard of. “Chinese people’s lives are too cheap. Ordinary people’s lives have to change when Beijing hosts the APEC summit,” posted netizen ‘Wang Ger” on Weibo. “With the meeting, the city started to inspect the environment and air a week in advance.Without the meeting, people’s life and death are ignored!”
A long-standing tradition for APEC conferences is the APEC leader’s family photo, where the leaders don the traditional clothing of their host country and take a photo. Outfitting world leaders in “traditional” Chinese smog masks might be a bit embarrassing, so hopefully the sweeping anti-pollution measures will work and we’ll have blissful clear skies, untill the conference is over, at least.
Photos Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons