Shanghai — When the sun comes up in Beijing on October 1, the Chinese government will aim to celebrate its 70th birthday under a brilliant blue sky — and factory bosses hope they can get through it without blanket closures.
During previous big events in a capital long plagued by festering pollution, the government has pulled out all the stops to guarantee air quality — seeding clouds for rain to wash the pollution away, restricting traffic and shutting factories, shops and construction sites.
Beijing will close building sites, curb fireworks and restrict fuel sales ahead of the National Day celebrating the founding of the People’s Republic of China. But government officials say the era of economically disruptive “one-size-fits-all” crackdowns is over, replaced by a more nuanced approach at a time when the country’s economy is creaking under the pressure of its trade war with the US.
Though there is still time for a clampdown, executives at heavy industrial firms believe sweeping closures are not yet on the agenda, as long as routine smog controls continue to do the job. An independent survey last week showed Beijing is on track to drop out from the list of the world’s top 200 most-polluted cities in 2019.
China’s biggest cement producer, China National Building Materials, is one that has not yet received any formal notification, and does not expect special measures.
“I think that if there are measures they won’t necessarily be connected with National Day,” Cui Xingtai, vice-president of the state-run company with facilities across the country, said. “In certain seasons, some places can introduce policies to alleviate the extent of air pollution.”
Elsewhere, officials with three small independent refineries in Shandong province, south of the capital, said they were not anticipating stiffer cuts in production before October.
Provincial authorities do have the October 1 anniversary in focus: Hebei, which surrounds Beijing, has launched an inspection of coal mines which it explicitly says is designed to prevent any accident ahead of the anniversary celebrations.
Meanwhile the province has imposed production curbs in Tangshan, China’s biggest steelmaking city, after a rise in smog earlier in September.
“The Tangshan plan didn’t mention National Day but it’s clearly a big part of the motivation,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, senior energy analyst with Greenpeace.
As October 1 approaches, industry sources said production cuts could get tougher, especially in Tangshan and other cities close to Beijing, but comprehensive shutdowns were unlikely.
The environment ministry said on Tuesday that mostly favourable weather would keep pollution in check over September, though concentrations of small floating particles known as PM2.5 were forecast to rise slightly in Beijing in the last 10 days of the month.
“There has been no official notice, though there’s still time,” said an industry consultant with ties to the Tangshan Iron and Steel Association who declined to be identified because he was not authorised to speak to media. “Controls will definitely be stricter before National Day.”
Liu Qingxi, manager of a cement plant owned by Anhui Conch in Tongling, 1,200km south of Beijing by road, said the company only expected to take action if air quality deteriorated.
“We’ve not been told anything yet, but if there are bad weather conditions they might ask us to stop production,” he said.