How Beijing’s sky changes before and after major political meetings

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 March, 2017, 7:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 March, 2017, 10:38am

In a short span of two weeks, China’s most important people attending its biggest political ball of the year have been treated to two vastly different shades of Beijing’s skies.

When the annual plenary sessions began on March 3, the sky was a smoggy grey as the Chinese capital suffered light to medium pollution.

That cleared quickly, however – as if the gods knew the import of the event that had the country’s movers and shakers all gathered in one place at the same time.

Or maybe it was the government’s measures – closing polluting factories and rationing traffic – that had finally kicked in.

It was clear blue skies over the next few days. The air quality index as measured by the US embassy remained largely below 100 for those few precious days.

Smog returns to Beijing as China’s big political gala ends

And though the air quality was categorised as only “moderate” – as opposed to “good” or “very good” – it was enough to get delighted residents and “two sessions” attendees clamouring over themselves to take photos and selfies as evidence to share with their friends on social media.

But as if to remind the people not to take it for granted, the sky turned a gloomy grey again after less than a week... only to return to blue when residents and politicians in the capital threw up sighs of disappointment, taking again to social media to document the change.

The blue skies held up for another few days all the way until the plenary sessions finally ended on Wednesday.

And as the parliamentary meetings drew to a close, as if on cue, the smog began descending on the capital once more.

Was it a response to Premier Li Keqiang’s declaration during his press conference that “I, too, hope that smog will be a thing of the past and blue skies will no longer be a luxury”?

On Wednesday, the AQI in Beijing climbed above 150 to “unhealthy” from a reading of around 50 the day before.

At the “unhealthy” level, people begin to experience the negative effects of exposure to air pollution, such as breathing difficulties.

Can China really win its “war against smog”? Li, at his press conference, said it would take time.

As polluting factories in the vicinity start production again now that the who’s who have left the capital, more choking smog can only be expected over the next few days.

It remains to be seen if blue skies can indeed become less of a luxury for Chinese residents, as the premier hopes.