China Clears Hangzhou Skies, Silences Critic Ahead of G20 Summit

China Clears Hangzhou Skies, Silences Critic Ahead of G20 Summit
Photo Credit: AP/達志影像

What you need to know

China’s preparations for next week's G20 summit have involved hundreds of factories being shut down and the detention of at least one civil servant.

Ahead of the high-profile G20 financial forum in Hangzhou, China, Sept. 4-5, Chinese authorities have forced hundreds of factories to shut down and ordered a mandatory holiday for workers, aiming to clean up the city’s chronically polluted skies.

Locals have dubbed the sudden clear atmosphere “G20 Blue." Many Chinese netizens have posted photos on Weibo saying they have not seen blue skies in Hangzhou for years.

One netizen said he was happy to see the change in Hangzhou and called on people to reflect on pollution issues.

While most netizens appear to be welcoming the clean air and clear skies, there has also been some criticism of the event.

One op-ed criticizes the authorities' disregard for the rights of Hangzhou residents and says the G20 event has severely affected the lives of local residents. The author claimed Hangzhou authorities prohibited residents from cooking at home as this would emit smoke and pollute the air.

At least one critic of the event was silenced by officials. Last month, Guo Enping (郭恩平), a Hangzhou civil servant, posted an article on his Weibo account titled “Hangzhou, Shame on You.” The article reportedly criticized the amount of money officials had spent in preparation for the summit. He was quickly fired and subsequently detained for 10 days on suspicion of causing disturbances by fabricating rumors, according to state-owned Global Times. Guo later “confessed” he had used many sources that have not been confirmed. According to the Times, more than 650 infrastructure projects were completed in advance of the summit.

Chinese officials often order mass factory closures to clean up the polluted skies of most major cities ahead of international events. During 2014 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) event in Beijing, the term “APEC Blue” was used to describe the uncharacteristically clear skies.

China, meanwhile, has moved closer to introducing a new environmental protection tax law, which would impose heavier penalties on polluters, according to a report by state-owned China Daily. The proposal would yield an estimated 22.8 billion yuan to 45.7 billion yuan (US$3.42 billion to US$6.85 billion) in annual tax revenue. The draft law designates four taxable types of pollution-airborne and water pollutants, solid waste and noise. Companies and individuals who directly discharge these would be subject to the tax,” the report quotes Finance Minister Lou Jiwei (樓繼偉) as saying.

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole