State Monopoly of Environmental Quality Monitoring and Reporting: State Secrets and Environmental Protection
Chinese authorities appear posed to strengthen barriers, through revisions to monitoring regulations, to non-governmental efforts to independently monitor and report on environmental quality. This development along with the June 2012 official public rebuke of U.S. officials for U.S. monitoring and reporting of PM2.5 air pollutants highlight official control over environmental quality information and suggest that such information is sensitive. Chinese authorities have cited the need for quality control over monitoring data; officials, however, also consider some environmental data as "secret."
Independent PM2.5 Monitoring Activities and Environmental Transparency Advocacy
Since at least the fall of 2011, in some locations, individuals and groups have used portable equipment to monitor PM2.5 levels locally (Xinhua, 1 March 12; Associated Press via Yahoo!, 8 December 11; and China Net, 20 June 12), but some of those engaged in the monitoring were unclear if these actions were permissible by law, according to a December 19, 2011, Legal Daily article. PM2.5 is particulate matter 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller and is associated with a variety of health problems (U.S. EPA, undated). Citizen monitoring activities came amid some doubts about the veracity of official air quality reports, at least in Beijing (Caixin, 6 December 11; China Economic Net, 9 December 11; USA Today, 26 December 11; and Agence France-Presse via Google, 30 November 11). Independent monitoring activities also came amid citizen advocacy for greater official transparency related to PM2.5 data, including open government information requests (Wall Street Journal, 8 November 11; Xinhua, 7 December 11; Southern Daily, 22 November 11). Advocacy efforts largely came after officials had announced in September 2011 that they planned to initiate PM2.5 monitoring and reporting pilot projects (Chinadialogue, 19 October 11). Since January 2012, several cities have begun to monitor and publicize PM2.5 levels, including Beijing (Beijing Review, 16 February 12), Guangzhou, and Hong Kong (Wall Street Journal, 9 March 12). The government said 74 cities would be required to release PM2.5 data to the public by year's end (Caixin, 2 August 12).
Legality of Independent Environmental Quality Monitoring Activities
While officials reportedly made some changes to pending draft revisions of environmental quality monitoring regulations, a report indicates environmental groups remain uncertain about the legality of independent monitoring activities (Beijing Evening News, 16 July 12). A Ministry of Environmental Protection official reportedly said the Environmental Monitoring Management Regulations (Draft for Comment) (2009) (2009 Draft Monitoring Regulations), which had undergone review by select government agencies since 2009, had been sent to the State Council Legal Affairs Office for review (Beijing Times article via the Ministry of Environmental Protection 17 July 12). A July 17 21st Century Business Herald article quoted an environmental official who said the current draft of the regulations "does not restrict other work units and individuals from monitoring environmental quality." He said the recent revisions do, however, stipulate prior approval would be needed to provide the monitoring data on "public platforms." The August 2 Caixin article, however, reported concern among non-government environmental organizations about even purchasing environmental monitoring equipment for fear of prosecution. Article 68 of the revisions to the 2009 Draft Monitoring Regulations stipulate that a government-approved organization should check the suitability of monitoring equipment and only then can it be used to monitor environmental quality.
China's Rebuke of U.S. Monitoring and Reporting on PM2.5
This discussion of independent citizen environmental monitoring activities comes on the heels of an official Chinese rebuke in early June 2012, of U.S. officials for U.S. monitoring and Twitter reporting of PM2.5 gathered by equipment within embassy and consulate compounds. In mid-May, the U.S. consulate in Shanghai began monitoring PM2.5 in the area surrounding its offices (China Daily, 1 June 12), which follows years of monitoring by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, which began in 2008 (Wall Street Journal, 5 June 12). During an Earth Day (June 5) press conference on national environmental quality, Vice Minister Wu Xiaoqing of the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) said, "we hope that every foreign embassy [will] respect relevant Chinese laws and regulations, and cease publishing unrepresentative air quality information" (People's Daily, 5 June 12). He also said the U.S. monitoring was not "rigorous" or to "standard," and that foreign diplomats "cannot interfere in internal affairs." He indicated that Chinese governmental departments are responsible for China's environmental monitoring system, seeming to imply that no other organizations may conduct monitoring. On June 6, in a regular press briefing, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Li Weimin reiterated similar accusations (Foreign Ministry, 7 June 12). He also claimed that embassy/consulate environmental monitoring and reporting did not comply with articles of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Deputy Spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, Mark Toner, discussed the Chinese accusations in response to a U.S. reporter's questions during regular press briefings on June 5 and June 6. He said that the United States did not believe the PM2.5 reports to be a violation of the Vienna Conventions or to constitute interference in China's internal affairs. Toner further noted that the United States had acknowledged the data was from a single monitor, saying "this is just information that we provide to the American community so that they can make decisions based on safety of outdoor activities." In the June 6 press conference, Toner said the United States would continue to monitor PM2.5 (within embassy/consulate grounds).
Revisions to Monitoring Regulations: Government Strengthens Monopoly Over Information
Revisions to the 2009 Draft Monitoring Regulations, made available to select organizations for review in 2009, are ongoing and articles contained in the draft for comment outline specific restrictions on environmental quality monitoring and clarify punishments for noncompliance (including for unauthorized monitoring and reporting). When passed, the draft revisions will replace the National Environmental Monitoring Management Regulations issued July 12, 1983.
- Article 4 stipulates that environmental departments at the county-level and above are responsible for managing environmental monitoring work within their respective administrative areas. (The 1983 version had analogous stipulations, Articles 3-4). Article 82 stipulates that the same organizations are responsible for disclosing environmental monitoring information.
- Article 9 stipulates that foreign groups and individuals or Chinese groups or individuals cooperating with foreign entities on scientific research work, must obtain permission from environmental departments prior to engaging in monitoring activities. These organizations or individuals must adhere to relevant provisions of Chinese laws and administrative regulations, and their activities cannot "involve state secrets" or "harm the interests of the state." (Article 21 of the 1983 version simply stipulates that approval must be obtained to provide the "outside world" with data, materials, and results.)
- Article 81 states: "no work unit or individual may make public in any form information related to the monitoring of environmental quality without approval." (Article 21 of the 1983 version stated: "monitoring data, materials, results, are all property of the nation, no individual has exclusive rights. No individual and work unit may use and publish monitoring data and materials that have not been formally published, without permission of the responsible department.")
- The draft revisions will contain specific monetary and other punishments for individuals and organizations that do not adhere to the provisions of the regulations, including individuals without "credentials" who engage in environmental monitoring (Articles 83-95). Authorities may fine foreign organizations, individuals, and those working on cooperative research with foreign organizations that do not obtain prior permission to conduct environmental monitoring, and will confiscate their monitoring data, materials, and equipment (Article 92). (The 1983 version did not stipulate specific punishments.)
Citizen Suggestions Regarding the 2009 Draft Revisions
In December 2011, 21 Chinese non-governmental organizations reportedly submitted 8 suggestions to authorities regarding the 2009 Draft Monitoring Regulations suggesting that restrictions on environmental monitoring by various groups be further clarified and that provisions should emphasize the link between environmental quality and citizens' health, according to the February 19 Legal Daily article. They also urged greater attention to citizens' rights to access environmental quality information and suggested that officials should remove provisions detrimental to public participation and supervision, according to the same article.
State Secrets and Environmental Data
While Chinese officials may want to control the quality of environmental quality data that is made public; they also still consider some environmental information as "secret." At least part of one environmental open government request apparently was denied on the basis that the data requested was considered "secret." (Anhui People's Government Open Government Information Net, 20 October 10). As alluded to in the response posted online to the information request, the 2004 "Environmental Protection Work State Secrets Catalog" contained in the "Provisions on the Scope of State Secrets in Environmental Protection Work" appears to still be in force, as of October 2010 (Hubei Environmental Protection Portal, 30 September 10). CECC staff was unable to locate a copy of the 2004 version of the provisions online, although a previous version was found here (Environmental Protection Bureau, Shixing County, Guangdong province).
For more information on transparency in the environmental sector, see Section II—The Environment in the CECC 2011 Annual Report (pp. 145-146).
Text – State Secrets in Environmental Protection and Controlling Dissemination of Monitoring Data
State Secrets and Environmental Data; Revisions to Monitoring Regulation Strengthens Controls
Chinese officials ostensibly consider some environmental information as “secret.” At least part of one environmental open government request apparently was denied on the basis that the data requested was considered “secret.” (Anhui People’s Government Open Government Information Net, 20 October 10). As alluded to in the apparent response to the information request, the 2004 “Environmental Protection Work State Secrets Catalog” contained in the “Provisions on the Scope of State Secrets in Environmental Protection Work” appears to still be in force, as of October 2010 (Hubei Environmental Protection Portal, 30 September 10).
(Anhui People’s Government Open Government Information Net, 20 October 10).
所需信息的内容描述 长江安庆段、无为段 和 巢湖湖区 自2007-2010的相关水质原始数据（pH，透明度，COD，DO，BOD，总磷，总氮，亚硝酸盐，水温）、浮游动植物、底栖生物、叶绿素、总有机碳等
(Hubei Environmental Protection Portal, 30 September 10).
(topic sentence: Authorities also exert control over the dissemination of environmental data through environmental quality monitoring regulations.) On April 27, 2009, the Ministry of Environmental Protection issued draft revisions of the Environmental Monitoring Management Regulation (Draft for Comment) (Monitoring Regulation) to government agencies for comments.
The Monitoring Regulation will replace the National Environmental Monitoring Management Regulation issued, 21 July 1983.
Article 21 of the 1983 version stipulates that: “monitoring data, materials, results, are all property of the nation, no individual has exclusive rights. No individual and work unit may use and publish monitoring data and materials that have not been formally published, without permission of the responsible department. Examination and approval procedures need to be followed for any monitoring data, materials, or results provided to the outside world.”
The Monitoring Regulations will replace the 1983 National Environmental Monitoring Management Regulation.
Article 21 of the 1983 version stipulates that: “monitoring data, materials, results, are all property of the nation, no individual has exclusive rights. Any individual and work unit may not use and publish monitoring data and materials that have not been formally announced, without permission of the responsible department. Any monitoring data, materials, or results given to the outside need to follow examination and approval procedures.”
The 2009 Monitoring Regulation expands restrictions on environmental monitoring and publication of monitoring data by various organizations including foreign organizations:
• Article 4 stipulates that environmental departments at the county-level and above are responsible for managing environmental monitoring work within their respective administrative areas. Article 82 stipulates that the same organizations are responsible for disclosing environmental monitoring information.
Article 9 stipulates that foreign groups and individuals or Chinese groups or individuals cooperating with foreign entities on scientific research work, must obtain permission from environmental departments prior to engaging in monitoring activities. These organizations or individuals must adhere to relevant provisions of Chinese laws and administrative regulations, and their activities cannot “involve state secrets” or “harm the interests of the state.”
Article 81 states: “no work unit or individual may make public in any form information related to the monitoring of environmental quality without approval.”
The draft revision also contains specific monetary and other punishments for individuals and organizations that do not adhere to the provisions of the regulation (Articles 83-95), including foreigners (Article 92).
(DO A SEARCH FOR THE FOLLOWING TERM: 处罚)
While the draft regulation does not explicitly prohibit environmental monitoring and reporting by environmental social organizations, it does not provide for it
(INSTEAD OF READING THE WHOLE REGULATION, DO A SEARCH FOR THE TERMS
In December 2011, twenty-one Chinese non-government organizations reportedly submitted eight suggestions to authorities regarding the draft revisions suggesting that restrictions on environmental monitoring by various groups be further clarified and that provisions should emphasize the link between environmental quality and citizens’ health, according to a February 19, 2012 Legal Daily article. They also urged greater attention to citizens’ rights to access environmental quality information. Further, they suggest that officials should remove provisions detrimental to public participation and supervision. The same article reported that one public interest lawyer asserted the regulations should include a role for citizens in the environmental monitoring system.
法制网北京12月19日讯 记者郄建荣 自然之友、北京地球村、环友科技、公众环境研究中心、达尔问自然求知社等 21 家环保组织，今日致信国务院法制办公室和环保部，针对 2009 年公布的《环境监测管理条例》（征求意见稿）（以下简称“《条例》”）提出八条意见，建议删除其中不利于公众参与和监督环境监测的条款，并增加保障公众环境信息知情权的内容。
个人和民间组织开始自测 PM2.5 以了解环境。21家环保组织表示，但这种行为以及数据的共享是否合法，现行法律尚没有一个明确的规定。
21 家环保组织的信中称，“征求意见稿”模糊了国家监测、社会商业监测、社会组织和个人科研 / 环境监督性质的检测三种活动受条例约束的范围，模糊的立法有妨碍公民科研自由和言论自由的嫌疑。
Citizen Monitoring Activities and Improvements in Transparency
In the fall of 2011, some individuals and groups in China also started to monitor PM2.5, but they were unclear if these actions were permissible by law, according to the February 19 Legal Daily article.
February 19, 2012 Legal Daily article
环保部 11 月 16 日公布的《环境空气质量标准》（二次征求意见稿）把 PM2.5 纳入了标准中，但实施日期为 2016 年。个人和民间组织开始自测 PM2.5 以了解环境。21家环保组织表示，但这种行为以及数据的共享是否合法，现行法律尚没有一个明确的规定。
(see rest of paragraph for sources confirming the dates of citizen monitoring.)
PM2.5 is particulate matter 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller and is dangerous to human health (U.S. EPA, undated).
Fine particle pollution or PM2.5 describes particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers in diameter and smaller - 1/30th the diameter of a human hair.
Health studies have shown a significant association between exposure to fine particles and premature death from heart or lung disease. Fine particles can aggravate heart and lung diseases and have been linked to effects such as: cardiovascular symptoms; cardiac arrhythmias; heart attacks; respiratory symptoms; asthma attacks; and bronchitis. These effects can result in increased hospital admissions, emergency room visits, absences from school or work, and restricted activity days. Individuals that may be particularly sensitive to fine particle exposure include people with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children.
News reports indicated some Beijing citizens began to doubt official air quality reports characterizing general air quality as “slightly polluted,” because they seemed to differ from their own observations and from the reports tweeted by the Beijing-based U.S. embassy, which characterized PM2.5 levels as “harmful.” (Caixin, 6 December 11; China Economic Net, 9 December 11; USA Today, 26 December 11; and Agence France-Presse via Google, 30 November 11).
(Caixin, 6 December 11)
On December 4 and 5, thick smog descended on the nation's capital, prompting Beijing officials to cancel hundreds of flights and shut down a few major highways.
In the afternoon of December 4, the U.S. embassy in China tweeted that Beijing's air quality index (AQI) was 533, which it labeled "beyond index." (above hazardous) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency generates AQI measurements by converting its PM 2.5 readings.
In contrast, Beijing's environmental protection bureau at 3:57 p.m. December 4 forecasted that the capital's AQI would be in the "slight pollution" range of 150 and 170 at 8:00 p.m. that day, as well as 8:00 a.m. the next day.
Similar incidents during October and November inspired one man named Yu Ping to send a formal request to Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau on November 19, asking for monitoring data on atmospheric particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter.
"As there is a big controversy about the difference between official and public data on Beijing's air pollution, I've sent my requirement in writing by express delivery to the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau and have asked them to disclose PM 2.5 readings between October 1 and November 18,"
(USA Today, 26 December 11)
The doubts about official pollution data keep piling up for China's government, as green activists, celebrity bloggers and ordinary citizens increasingly demand action and information to halt the environmental fall-out from decades of breakneck economic growth.
The haze has highlighted discrepancies between the government's robustly sunny statistics and the far scarier numbers recorded and issued by the U.S. Embassy here. Beijing described the air pollution as "light" on December 4, a smog-filled day that forced the city airport, the world's second busiest, to cancel hundreds of flights because of poor visibility. The embassy reading was "beyond index," literally off the measurement charts that stop at "hazardous."
"The air is dangerous; it will cause cancer," says Sam Zhang, 41, a vegetable wholesaler who signed up for the monitoring center visit. He says he trusts the U.S. Embassy figures over his own government's data.
China Economic Net, 9 December 11).
It is thought this is the reason for the frequent discrepancies between good ratings by government and the actual poor experience of urban Chinese.
Agence France-Presse via Google, 30 November 11).
The choking air that regularly descended on the Chinese capital in October and November has given fresh impetus to a growing public debate over air quality in the city, whose 20 million residents are increasingly worried.
In late October, when a thick grey smog blanketed much of northern China, causing six highways to be closed and more than 200 flights to be cancelled or delayed in Beijing, the US embassy rated the capital's air as "hazardous."
But the official data, which measure only larger particles in the air, ranked the pollution levels much lower, calling them “slight” – leading some people to suspect the government was deliberately underplaying the issue.
“For a quarter of the year, we can’t see beyond 500 metres and the government shamelessly declares that air quality is good,” said one critic on Sina’s weibo, a hugely popular microblog. “Can’t they tell us the truth?”
Even the state-run Global Times newspaper waded in, asking the government to “avoid confusing information”.
In some locations, people volunteered to record air quality in their cities through pictures and some individuals and groups began to use portable equipment to monitor PM2.5 (Xinhua, 1 March 12; Associated Press via New York Times, 8 December 11; and China Net, 20 June 12).
(Xinhua, 1 March 12). (CMS 176349)
The government reading, sometimes contrary to citizens' personal feelings, roused wide concerns after environmental activists, media people and opinion leaders brought this topic on microblogs.
On Sina Weibo only, more than 1 million microblogs have been posted concerning the issue.
Many volunteered to document air quality of their cities with pictures and environmentalist groups even started monitoring PM2.5 by their own device.
December 8 Associated Press article reprinted in the New York Times (CMS 167492),
What matters now, Feng said, is for people to conduct their own testing "and see the truth right now." Green Beagle is recruiting people around the city to test the air in their homes, neighborhoods, offices and public spaces. It lends the sole monitoring device it possesses for up to a week.
Some residents even set it whirring in the supermarket. In return for lending the PM2.5 detector, Green Beagle gets the readings and posts them on their website.
June 20 China Net article.
Four college students in Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang Province, have been using portable devices to monitor the city's PM2.5 pollution.
The Harbin Institute of Technology students said they were studying various aspects of PM2.5 pollution and informing urbanites of the environmental situation, in a bid to contribute to the city's pollution control.
The citizen monitoring activities came amid greater citizen advocacy regarding official transparency related to PM2.5, including open government information requests (Wall Street Journal, 8 November 2011; Xinhua, 7 December 11; Southern Daily, 22 November 11).
Wall Street Journal, 8 November 2011 (CMS 167628)
Tens of thousands of people, including several Chinese celebrities, have used an unofficial online vote to press the government to measure air pollution more accurately, in a graphic illustration of how the Internet–and especially Twitter-like microblogging–is challenging Beijing’s control of information.
By Tuesday evening, with five days to go until votes are due to be counted, more than 38,000 votes were cast, with 98% agreeing that the country should introduce a more-sensitive standard used by the U.S. government and its embassy in Beijing (THE “SENSITIVE STANDARD” TO WHICH HE IS REFERING IS THE PM2.5 – INSTEAD OF THE PM10.)
Xinhua, 7 December 11 (CMS 176349)
On Sina Weibo only, more than 1 million microblogs have been posted concerning the issue.
Southern Daily, 22 November 11). (CMS 170175).
“北京市环保局今天给我打电话，问我是不是考虑撤回关于北京PM 2.5数据的信息公开申请，称环保局的PM 2.5数据不完整，不是每天都监测。我说没 关系，那就提供你们已有的监测数据。环保局答曰，他们手中的PM 2.5监测数据仅供研究之用，按信息公开条例的规定，不能公开。我要求他们给我一个书面 答复”。
It also came largely after officials had announced in September 2011 that they planned to include PM2.5 into air quality standards in a few pilot cities first before expanding nationally (Chinadialogue, 19 October 2011)
October 19, 2011 Chinadialogue article (CMS 168460).
Speaking at Seventh Environment and Development Forum on September 22, China’s pollution control secretary Zhao Hualin announced that the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) intends to revise its national ambient air quality standards to include PM 2.5 measurements.
Piloting measurement in model cities makes political sense as a way of easing China into eventual binding PM 2.5 targets for all provinces – a mandate that will likely be included in the 13th Five-Year Plan. By first signaling that PM 2.5 is an aspiration for “model cities”, the government is taking an important step toward lessening political stigma surrounding the pollutant: instead of being punished, cities will be rewarded.
Since September, several cities have begun to report PM2.5 levels, including Beijing (Beijing Review, 16 February 12), and Guangzhou and Hong Kong (Wall Street Journal, 9 March 12)
Beijing Review, 16 February 12) (CMS 177379)
Starting on February 2, a new figure showing the 24-hour average concentrations of PM2.5, an important gauge of air quality, appeared on the website of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau (EPB).
Earlier, the bureau started to publish hourly readings of PM2.5 on January 21
(Wall Street Journal, 9 March 12). (CMS 176957)
Hong Kong has decided to come clean with data on a dangerous form of air pollution, a month and a half after Beijing, a city with smoggier skies and a murkier approach to statistics, did the same.
Though Hong Kong’s government has been monitoring PM2.5 levels since 1999, it has kept those readings from the public for years. “We’ve been waiting for a long time for this,” says Dr. Chit-Ming Wong of Hong Kong University’s School of Public Health. He hails the government’s latest move, but also notes that the city’s proposed new air quality objectives remain “very lax – much, much more lax than in other places.”
Just across the border from Hong Kong, southern China’s Guangdong province also began releasing PM2.5 readings on Thursday.
(The timeline is established because the article is dated March 9 and said Beijing began publicizing data a month and a half before Hong Kong)
China's Rebuke of U.S. Monitoring and Reporting on PM2.5
(title sentence: An official rebuke in early June 2012, of U.S. monitoring and twitter reporting of PM2.5 gathered by equipment within embassy and consulate compounds also illustrates that Chinese authorities continue to consider information on environmental quality sensitive and want to maintain total control over its dissemination.) In mid-May, the U.S. consulate in Shanghai began monitoring PM2.5 in the area surrounding its offices (China Daily, 1 June 12). (CMS 175302), which follows nearly four years of monitoring by the U.S. embassy in Beijing (Wall Street Journal, 5 June 12). (CMS 175117).
(China Daily, 1 June 12). (CMS 175302),
The US consulate in Shanghai began in mid-May to publish PM2.5 readings it had taken, saying they are "an indicator of overall air quality in the area surrounding its Huaihai Middle Road offices", according to a notice on the consulate's micro blog on Monday.
(Wall Street Journal, 5 June 12). (CMS 175117).
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing has used the @BeijingAir Twitter account to publish hourly air quality readings – based on measurements of air pollution particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, also known as PM2.5, that are considered especially damaging to human health – since 2008.
During an Earth Day (June 5) press conference on national environmental quality, Vice-Minister Wu Xiaoqing of the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) said, “we hope that every foreign embassy [will] respect relevant Chinese laws and regulations, and cease publishing unrepresentative air quality information,” in response to a Xinhua reporter’s question (China Daily, 5 June 12). (CMS 175304)
He also said the monitoring did not comply with international or Chinese norms, and was not “rigorous” or to “standard.” He indicated that two Chinese environmental laws stipulate Chinese governmental departments are responsible for establishing environmental monitoring system, implying that no other organizations may do so.
• [吴晓青]:我 们也注意到个别国家驻华使领馆监测空气质量并发布信息的情况。在今年3月2日，环境空气质量标准新闻发布会上我就讲过，这样做在技术上既不符合国际通行的 要求，也不符合中国的要求，既不严谨，也不规范。从法律上讲，中国环境保护法和大气污染防治法等有关法律规定，国务院环境保护行政部门建立监测制度，制定 监测规范，会同有关部门组织监测网络，加强对环境监测的管理；国务院和省、自治区、直辖市人民政府的环境保护行政主管部门应当定期发布环境状况公报，我们 今天也是这样做的
On June 6, in a regular press briefing, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Li Weimin reiterated similar accusations (Foreign Ministry, 6 June 12). (CMS 176105) Further, he claimed that embassy/consulate environmental monitoring and reporting violated articles of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, declaring the actions constituted “interference” in Chinese internal affairs.
Q: In response to the opposition of an official of China's Ministry of Environmental Protection to foreign diplomatic missions publishing air quality data of Chinese cities, the spokesperson of US State Department said that the move does not violate the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. What is China's comment? Secondly, the US said it would not oppose Chinese diplomatic missions publishing air quality data of US cities. Does China plan to do so?
A: Foreign embassies and consulates in China do not have the legal qualifications to monitor the environment and publish relevant data in China, nor do they have the professional capabilities or qualifications of environmental monitoring. Unwarranted monitoring and data release on China's environmental quality is irresponsible since it does not comply with relevant provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and violates relevant Chinese laws and regulations on environmental monitoring. Therefore, we hope the embassy and consulates of relevant country in China abide by the universally accepted principles of international law, respect China's laws and regulations and stop their irresponsible behaviour.
On the second question, China has no interest in doing so.
Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (see Article 41)
and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, (see Article 55)
Deputy Spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, Mark Toner, discussed the Chinese accusations in response to a U.S. reporter’s questions during regular press briefings on June 5 and June 6. He said that the U.S. did not believe the PM2.5 reports to be a violation of the Vienna Conventions or to constitute interference in China’s internal affairs. Toner further noted that the U.S. had acknowledged the data was from a single monitor, saying “this is just information that we provide to the American community so that they can make decisions based on safety of outdoor activities.” In the June 6 press conference, Toner said the U.S. would continue to monitor PM2.5 (within embassy/consulate grounds).
June 6th Press Conference
QUESTION: Oh, well there’s so much going on today. All right. Let’s start with clearly what is the most important issue, and that is the latest chaos between you guys and the Chinese over the most important issue of air quality.
MR. TONER: Wow. That’s the most important issue?
QUESTION: Yeah. I’m thinking that it might be the most. Have you – has the Embassy heard the – received any formal complaints about its Twitter feed of this – of the air quality, and are you planning to shut it down?
MR. TONER: Matt, we are aware at the June 5th press briefing by Chinese spokespersons – their equivalent, I guess – that they did make a statement about foreign embassies that release environmental information were violating Chinese internal affairs. You know what we do at the U.S. Embassy and other various consulates throughout China. We provide the American community, both our Embassy and consulate personnel, as well as the American community writ large, information it can use to make better daily decisions regarding the safety of outdoor activities. We do this via these PM 2.5 – I’m sorry – monitors that look at PM 2.5 pollution. And this is, frankly, something that Americans – or data or information that Americans get in U.S. cities every day.
QUESTION: All right. So you don’t think it’s a violation of the Chinese internal affairs to
MR. TONER: We do not.
QUESTION: -- basically release a weather report?
MR. TONER: We do not.
QUESTION: No? And you don’t think that it’s a violation of the Vienna Conventions?
MR. TONER: Most certainly, we do not. I mean, again, this is a service that we provide to Americans, both who work in the Embassy community as well as Americans who live in China. And again, this is a service we’re all well aware that exists in many U.S. cities. Air pollution, quite frankly, is a problem in many cities and regions in China. So --
QUESTION: And just to wrap it up then.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: And so you have no plans to stop?
MR. TONER: We do not.
MR. TONER: By the way, just to go back, I’m not an expert in Vienna Convention, but I’m pretty sure that this is no violation of the Vienna Convention.
QUESTION: Then you don’t think that– when was the Vienna Convention signed? What, 19 --
MR. TONER: That they had pollution monitors? I don’t think so. They probably needed them, but --
QUESTION: Does the U.S. provide similar services in other embassies in cities which might be polluted?
MR. TONER: You know what? I can take that question. I believe that we may do that. I don’t have an answer for you though.
QUESTION: Okay. If you can check on that. And do you know in China, other than the Embassy Beijing, are the similar readouts provided for sites from U.S. consulates?
MR. TONER: We do. Well, in Shanghai, the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau publishes PM 10 data and air quality readings from multiple monitors, while the U.S. Shanghai consulate publishes PM 2.5 data and air quality recordings from one monitor. So these are different – they measure different parameters and indices. In Guangzhou, again, we also have a – we also publish the same PM 2.5 data.
QUESTION: Okay. How about Chengdu?
MR. TONER: That is a good question. I would say, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you know yes or are you just saying yes?
MR. TONER: But I don’t have that in front of me. If that’s wrong, I’ll let you know.
QUESTION: You wouldn’t have any problem with the Chinese doing a similar – something similar here?
MR. TONER: Not at all. But again, I mean, what we do in China is – I mean, these are different standards the way we measure this. So this is something we already provide, as I said, in many American cities. But no, we have no objections.
QUESTION: Mark, is it --
QUESTION: But why isn’t it --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, I was just saying that one of the chief Chinese complaints about it is that they say that since it’s – in Embassy Beijing case, since it’s only data collected from one monitoring instrument, that it’s not very scientific and that it doesn’t get sort of – they’re claiming it as sort of specious data that’s being used to whack them. Do you think that it’s scientifically sort of valid to deliver air pollution reports on the basis of one monitor?
MR. TONER: Well, I think we admit that these are from – data from a single monitor, but this is just information that we provide to the American community so that they can make decisions based on safety of outdoor activities. But we freely acknowledge that these are single monitors.
Yeah. Go ahead, Jill. Go ahead, and then I’ll --
QUESTION: Just to clarify. This has not come up before? Is this the first time they’ve ever made a complaint about this?
MR. TONER: I’ll take that question as well. They – I’m not sure whether there’s been similar, kind of, public statements about it. I don’t know.
June 6th Press Conference
QUESTION: Just one follow-up. The point you made yesterday about the Chinese air quality, you said the service is only for the Americans in China. But actually, someone in China pointed out that the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, they tweet on the Chinese Twitter in Chinese talking about the Chinese air quality. So how does it make sense that if this is only for the Americans in China?
MR. TONER: Well, again – I don’t know. You’re saying that they actually tweet this information out in Chinese? I would --
QUESTION: They do sometimes.
MR. TONER: I would assume that there are many in the American community in China who speak or read Chinese fluently. That’s my first assumption in this. I know that the Twitter account has about 20,000 followers. I don’t know how many of them are bilingual, but I would imagine some percentage of them are. But again, this is an initiative by Embassy Beijing, by the mission in China, to convey what we believe is useful information to our citizens abroad.
QUESTION: Even if it wasn’t directed only at Americans, do you – would you see a problem with it? I mean, what --
MR. TONER: Not at all. I mean, we --
QUESTION: Is there a problem with the --
MR. TONER: We don’t --
QUESTION: -- with Chinese people knowing --
MR. TONER: We don’t have any problem with --
QUESTION: -- (inaudible) air quality –
MR. TONER: We don’t have any problem with – sorry.
QUESTION: No, but do you – the point of the question, it seems to be, that it’s bad for the U.S. Embassy to give the Chinese people information in Chinese. Do you see anything wrong with giving – is there anything wrong --
MR. TONER: This information isn’t – yeah, no, just to finish --
QUESTION: -- with giving --
MR. TONER: No.
QUESTION: -- weather reports basically in Chinese? Do you see anything wrong with the Embassy doing that --
MR. TONER: What I’d just say is --
QUESTION: -- in any language?
MR. TONER: -- while this is directed at the American community in China, obviously this information is --
QUESTION: But it wasn’t --
MR. TONER: -- no, right.
QUESTION: Would you take it as a problem --
MR. TONER: No.
QUESTION: Would you take the Chinese Government’s point that it would be a problem if this was – if it was directed at Chinese --
MR. TONER: This information is – we don’t delineate between Chinese or Chinese Americans or American citizens who follow our Twitter account. All are welcome.
QUESTION: But even if – what if it was --
MR. TONER: And this information is --
QUESTION: What if it was all for – what if it was all – only being looked at by Chinese citizens? Would you see a problem with that?
MR. TONER: Well, again, it’s primarily directed to American citizens. But in terms of Chinese accessing this information, we don’t have a problem with it.
QUESTION: So you’re not going to stop doing this, then?
MR. TONER: No.
QUESTION: And were you able to --
MR. TONER: No intention.
QUESTION: -- obtain information on whether you do this in any other countries?
MR. TONER: I don’t. That was a really hard question, it turned out, because we have to actually – we would have to – there’s no kind of – this isn’t a State-run program. It’s not out of the main State. It’s a program each mission takes on or implements.
This was, as I just told Jill, I think – that this was an initiative started by Embassy Beijing. We would see it as a model for other missions around the globe to do. I know that, for example, our Embassy in Mexico City did do it in the past, but I don’t believe they still do it. I’m not sure what the status is. I just didn’t have time to check every place around the world. But it’s – just flipping that on its side, we view it as a very constructive and positive initiative undertaken by our mission in Beijing.