China Seeks to Rid Beijing of Smog, Dissidents Ahead of Communist Party Congress

2017-10-16
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People walk past a poster featuring Chinese President Xi Jinping with a slogan reading "Chinese Dream, People's Dream" beside a road in Beijing on Oct. 16, 2017.
People walk past a poster featuring Chinese President Xi Jinping with a slogan reading "Chinese Dream, People's Dream" beside a road in Beijing on Oct. 16, 2017.
AFP

Beijing is shuttering factories to ensure blue skies over major cities ahead of the 19th national congress of the ruling Chinese Communist Party on Thursday, and clearing prominent dissidents out of the capital city under the watchful eye of state security police, sources told RFA.

A Guangdong resident surnamed Cui said several factories in his neighborhood had been shut down in recent days.

"They have closed so many factories that this has led to rises in the prices for industrial products," Cui said. "The price of raw materials for construction such as concrete and steel bars for concrete reinforcement is being set very high because of the factory closures and low levels of inventory."

"And a lot of people are complaining that supplies of some items have been cut off altogether," he said. "Prices of industrial raw materials, fertilizer and pesticides are very high already, several times higher than before."

As the ruling Chinese Communist Party gears up for its five-yearly national congress, which opens in Beijing on Wednesday, President Xi Jinping will unveil his plans and leadership team for the next five years in government.

China's smog has repeatedly brought large swathes of the country to a standstill in recent years, particularly in the north, forcing airports to cancel thousands of flights, requiring schools to close, and reducing visibility on city streets.

But the government typically takes drastic measures to ensure clear blue skies over politically important events, including its hosting of the G20 in the eastern city of Hangzhou last year, and Beijing's hosting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in 2014.

Lin Jiang, professor of economics at Zhongshan University's Lingnan College said the factory closures are likely to have negative impact on the local economy, however.

"Some factories are being ordered to shut down, but will this lead to job losses and factory closures?" Lin said. "If the workers have no work, their incomes will suffer, and [this] will have a negative impact on commercial enterprises."

"And, if they have taken out debt, how will they pay it back if they shut down?"

Forced vacations for dissenters

Beijing-based environmental activist Chen Lixia said similar measures are being implemented in the Chinese capital.

"This will definitely have an impact on air pollution ... it's very clear that it is having an effect," Chen said. "But factories aren't the only source of pollution and emissions, which also includes urban transportation."

"So it's very hard to deal completely with the pollution problem."

Pollution in Beijing was still fairly heavy, according to official readings of PM2.5 particulates, which was in the Unhealthy zone by Monday evening, according to the air quality website aqicn.com.

Meanwhile, prominent rights activists have been removed from the city and forced to go on "vacation" under escort by the state security police, sources said.

A relative of Liu Xia, widow of late Nobel peace laureate and political prisoner Liu Xiaobo, said she left town last week after undergoing a series of medical tests in a Beijing hospital following her return from house arrest in the southwestern province of Yunnan following her husband's death.

"She's had all the tests now, and she has left town because they are about to begin the congress," the relative said. "This is common practice."

The relative said Liu is likely with her brother Liu Hui. "Of course she'll have somebody with her," she said. "She's not a well woman."

Meanwhile, Beijing rights activist Hu Jia said he is now "on vacation" outside Beijing, and has been unable to contact Liu Xia.

"I am sad to say that I don't know much about her situation right now," Hu said. "I'll I've been able to find out is that, like me, she's no longer in Beijing."

"I tried to stay behind as long as I could, because my mother is sick, but today was the last day they would allow it, because the congress starts the day after tomorrow," he said.

Other high-profile dissidents including outspoken political journalist Gao Yu, Bao Tong, former top aide to late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang and political activist Zha Jianguo are already under tight surveillance, some of them outside the city.

Calls to Zhao Ziyang's daughter Wang Yanan rang unanswered on Monday.

Reported by Wong Lok-to and Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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