China has gone to great lengths to ensure that the Asia-Pacific Cooperation summit beginning this week in Beijing are a success. It is telling Beijing residents to leave town and imposing stringent measures to prevent smog from clouding the skies and cars from clogging the city’s streets.
For most of October, Beijing was cloaked in smog. But now, as it hosts the region’s biggest economic event of the year, the skies are clear.
At least for now, thanks to tough traffic controls and orders to close factories within 125 miles of the city center. Beijing’s city government even created an APEC holiday that closed public schools and state-run businesses, encouraging some of the 20 million residents to leave town.
Businesses next to hotels housing dignitaries have been told to shut down as well. Zhang and Su work near a hotel in Beijing where an APEC delegation is staying.
"We may go hiking outside Beijing tomorrow," Zhang said. "We’ll go out and have as much fun as we can. There’s really not much else we can do."
Online travel agency Ctrip.com jumped on the opportunity, offering discounted trips. Public affairs manager Jane Chen said Ctrip.com has booked 100,000 trips from Beijing during APEC.
"We’ve issued a series of discounted travel packages to encourage Beijing residents to travel and ease the pressure on traffic during APEC," she said.
But not all are heeding the call to leave. Medical student Jiang Yuliang said she will stay put.
"I checked airline tickets online with my friends, but the prices were way too expensive and tickets were selling fast. It seemed like everybody was going out of town. So I thought the best thing to do was to stay here, away from the crowds," she said.
Seeking permanent solutions
This week, most Beijing residents were relieved to see the sky again, but many say they want a long-term solution for the air pollution.
"I’d hope that the government takes a more fundamental approach to the problem of smog and traffic, instead of just using temporary measures," said Beijing resident Sun.
"No one likes or feels comfortable about these restrictions that the government places on our freedom of movement. And many wonder why it is that we have to make all these compromises just so the government can host a meeting," said Shao, another city resident.
As world leaders make their way to Beijing in the coming days, China’s meteorological agency expects the city’s choking air pollution will, too.
But authorities are prepared: The massive media center, like the APEC meeting venues, comes equipped with a powerful air filtration system. And unlike in the rest of China, officials say the Internet here is unblocked.
So it’s fresh air, clear streets and an open Internet – for at least a few days in a few select corners of China’s capital city.