The twin evils of traffic jams and heavy air pollution are fast giving the Chinese capital the same notoriety as Bangkok or Mexico City. More than 2 million cars and trucks are constantly mired in bumper-to-bumper traffic spewing fumes on Beijing's ring roads, while visitors complain about stinging eyes and being short of breath under a permanently hazy sky. The leadership was forced into action when the International Olympic Committee cited the traffic and pollution problems as its main concerns for the 2008 Games. After years of indecision, the government announced a plan in February to relocate Shougang Corp, a steel and iron manufacturing complex with 120,000 workers, away from the western suburbs. The decision was politically tough, but should be popular. The relocation is expected to cost 50 billion yuan, including the resettlement of more than 60,000 disgruntled workers. But once the relocation is complete, hopefully before the Olympics, Beijing will be spared the tonnes of pollutants released into the air yearly while saving 50 million cubic metres of water. While the factory relocation is worth celebrating, it is only a small step forward in the long struggle against the twin evils. In addition to industrial pollutants and dust from construction sites, car exhaust fumes have also become a serious threat. And the problem is not going to go away soon, with the Beijing municipal government forecasting there will be 3.8 million vehicles on the streets by 2010 and 5 million by 2020. To cope, the city is spending billions of yuan on widening roads and building more overpasses and expressways. But these are merely cosmetic steps and will not have any impact on the car culture that is prospering in the capital, as in the rest of the country. Maybe it is time for the mainland leadership to try something even bolder - relocating the central government and municipal government offices out of the downtown area and into the suburbs - to the more than 10 square kilometres soon to be vacated by Shougang. The relocation idea is not new and has been proposed every now and then, largely because Beijing is chronically short of water and its harsh winter is not considered good for the delicate lungs of the powerful. There would be many benefits from moving the government offices to the suburbs and would make the city a much better place to live. First, almost all central government and municipal government offices are located in downtown areas. Officials running around in cars and calling upon each other are responsible for about 30 per cent of the traffic jams, according to some calculations. Putting officials from various ministries into the same complex would help improve efficiency and reduce congestion. Second, there are some foreign examples to learn from. In Britain and Germany, many government offices are located in suburban areas where land is cheap and the air quality is better. Third, all government offices in Beijing are located on the most prestigious and expensive plots. Leaders live and work in the Zhongnanhai compound, a former royal enclave with a lake and dotted with ancient trees. Vacating and selling these plots - now occupied by government offices - would raise tens of billions of yuan that would not only pay for the relocation of Shougang and the construction of government office buildings on the vacant lot, but also for more lofty purposes - education and helping the poor. Zhongnanhai could become the Chinese version of Central Park in New York, while the government officials could take advantage of the supposedly good fung shui at the Shougang site, which sits in the hills and along a river.