China state media defends 'APEC blue' skies

Beijing (AFP) - China will learn "precious lessons" from its move to clear up Beijing's notoriously smog-ridden skies ahead of an international summit, state media argued Friday, as Internet users coined the derisive term "APEC blue".

Beijing has pulled out all the stops in its effort to greet visitors with blue skies for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, when Chinese President Xi Jinping will host leaders from the United States, Russia and Japan among others.

Authorities in the Chinese capital have imposed tight limits on car use, ordered factories to close, and are giving public sector employees a six-day holiday, with some neighbouring areas also following suit with restrictions.

The move led to dazzling clear skies in Beijing on Thursday, with levels of PM2.5 particulates, the smallest and most dangerous, falling to four micrograms per cubic metre -- down from more than 400 during a stretch of heavy pollution last month.

By Friday, the reading had risen back up to 60, with white skies again clouding the capital.

The government-led effort has triggered an unexpected backlash among the country's social media users, many of whom have taken to the popular platforms Weibo and WeChat to ridicule the all-out push that has abruptly cleared the capital's skies.

A message circulating widely on the Chinese mobile messaging app WeChat this week defined the new phrase "APEC blue" as "something that is beautiful but fleeting and ultimately inauthentic".

On Sina Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter, one user wrote Friday: "Many plants in polluting industries have halted production without any hesitation in order to save face for Beijing during APEC, when leaders of other countries are visiting."

"What does this mean?" the user asked. "Pollution isn't an uncontrollable problem; the key is that the health of ordinary people isn't as important as saving the government's face!"

State media responded with several commentaries Friday that addressed the issue but seemed to offer conflicting advice regarding China's longer-term pollution problem.

"North China will learn precious lessons from these current smog reduction efforts and the result, which can be used effectively later," the state-run Global Times wrote in an editorial.

But it added: "How China can sustain a blue sky will be one of the tougher challenges it faces in the post-APEC period".

A named commentary in the ruling Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily acknowledged that "it may be difficult to retain the 'APEC blue'".

It noted, however, that it is "absolutely necessary for us to retain the serious attitude, firm determination and coordinated mechanisms behind it".