Even as its pollution soars to hazardous levels, Beijing has jumped into the top 10 global cities, says a ranking by A.T. Kearney. At No. 8, China’s capital is the only Chinese city in the top 10, and moves up from 12th place last year, according to the 2014 Global Cities Index, released on April 14 (Shanghai came in at No. 18, and Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Chongqing at 66, 73, and 84, respectively).
For the second year in a row, New York and London, in first and second place, topped the list that looks at 84 municipalities around the world and ranks them by measures including business activity, human capital, information exchange, cultural offerings, and political engagement. Others in the top 10 include Paris at No. 3, followed by Tokyo, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Chicago, Beijing, Singapore, and Washington.
Beijing’s ability to attract global companies, plus the rise of Chinese multinationals, helped propel it up the ranks. Growing numbers of international schools, museums, and broadband subscribers also boosted Beijing’s standing. And the Chinese capital’s political heft, measured in part by the number of embassies, international organizations, and think tanks, also supported Beijing’s high position.
“What we’ve seen over time is that strong business activity and heavyweight political influence are a combination of attributes which really propel cities, and that Beijing is a perfect example of this,” Andreas Mendoza Pena, a principal at A.T. Kearney in Chicago, told Bloomberg News. “We see Beijing continuing its upward trend.”
There are challenges to Beijing’s standing. Not surprisingly, China’s capital saw its relative performance in information exchange slip compared with previous years; the ranking looks at freedom of expression, an area that hasn’t fared well as China’s leaders crack down on Internet expression.
Smoggy skies are probably the biggest challenge to Beijing’s ranking, with the capital experiencing 189 days of polluted air last year, according to the local environmental bureau. The concentration of PM2.5—the fine particles most damaging to human health—reached 274 at noon on April 14, the day the ranking was released, according to a reading by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing; that’s about 11 times the level considered safe by the World Health Organization.
Close to half of international companies say that they face difficulty attracting and retaining senior executives in China because of air pollution, according to a 2014 survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in China; that’s up from less than a fifth of companies facing similar difficulties the year before. “The challenge for Beijing is if this trend with pollution continues, it might impact its ability to attract and also retain the best talent,” said Mendoza Pena to Bloomberg News.