Beijing Tells Its Residents to Leave Town Ahead of APEC

China’s desire that blue skies and traffic-free streets greet world leaders at a summit in Beijing next week -- after air pollution in the capital reached hazardous levels at least 10 days so far this month -- is prompting the city to ask residents to go away.

The municipal government announced a week-long break for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum Nov. 7-12, shutting schools, limiting cars on the roads and encouraging travel agencies to offer discount vacation packages. That comes after the week-long National Day holiday in early October.

“The holiday in November is such a wonderful gift,” said Tian Weiping, a literature professor at a university in Beijing. “I’d love to visit Hangzhou or Shanghai.”

China’s preparations for the APEC meetings go beyond cut-rate travel. Measures such as factory shutdowns are so sweeping that nationwide industrial production growth may be shaved by as much as half a percentage point in October and November, while steel output in nearby Hebei province may fall 10 percent in November.

The provinces of Hebei and Shandong will bear the brunt of output losses as Beijing curbs industrial activity to ensure clean air. Hebei will keep household heating “at the lowest acceptable level” unless “extremely cold weather” hits the region, according to the provincial government’s Department of Housing and Urban-Rural Development.

The measures are aimed at preventing smog from enveloping the city during the event, which will be attended by U.S. President Barack Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladamir Putin. On Oct. 19, pollution levels exceeding World Health Organization limits by 16 times prompted many runners to drop out of the Beijing marathon and drew new attention to China’s difficulty in cleaning its air despite promises to do so.

Steel Output

“China is paying a high cost to maintain its image. It’s making many efforts to erase long-lasting problems of bad air and traffic for the short period of APEC,” said Bai Ming, deputy director of the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation within the Ministry of Commerce. “It just doesn’t need world leaders to see those troubles as it has been trying so hard to restructure the economy.”

The summit will cut industrial output growth by 0.3 to 0.5 percentage point in October and November, Dong Tao, chief regional economist at Credit Suisse in Hong Kong, said in an e-mail on Oct. 15. China’s industrial production grew by 8.5 percent year-on-year in the January-to-September period, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Oct. 21.

Hebei, China’s largest steel producer, may lose as much as 10 percent of steel output next month, said Wang Yongliang, an analyst at Founder Cifco Futures Co in Tianjin. Heavy industry will halt within a a 200-kilometer (124-mile) radius of Beijing.

Beijing Airport

Preparing for APEC is “a political task that overrides everything in the city,” the Beijing Daily reported on Oct. 8, citing comments from a city meeting. Guo Jinlong, the city’s party secretary, encouraged residents “publicize the capital’s and the country’s positive image,” the newspaper reported.

China has a history of efforts to clean up its air for events that put it in the global spotlight. When APEC was held in Shanghai in 2001, residents got a five-day holiday. China’s preparations for the 2008 summer Olympics included the construction of a new terminal at Beijing’s airport, keeping many cars off the road, shutting down factories and deploying 110,000 security personnel.

“China always takes measures that are more radical than others to prevent negative factors from adversely impacting international events and tainting its image,” Lian Ping, Shanghai-based chief economist at Bank of Communications Co., said in a phone interview.

Hotel, Highway

For this year’s APEC summit, Beijing built a hotel and villas as well as an international convention center from scratch. A new highway was laid to the event area on the city’s outskirts. The Beijing government declined to comment and the Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to a faxed request for comment.

By contrast, Sydney gave residents a three-day long weekend and planned a restricted area around the northern part of its central business district for an APEC summit in 2007, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported. The state government in Hawaii spent $1.5 million to install security cameras and another $7 million to renovate the airport for a 2011 APEC summit, the Honolulu Star reported.

China International Travel Service Corp. Ltd. is offering discounted tour packages during the APEC summit, while travel-booking website Qunar Cayman Island Ltd. has seen sales rise.

“The APEC summit has lifted the search volume of hotels and air tickets on Qunar’s website, and boosted sales during the slack season,” said Qiu Hui, senior product director of the company’s air ticket department.

Car Curbs

The number of searches for tours in the first half of November jumped 15 percent after the Beijing government announced the holiday, the company said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Along with the public holiday, Beijing reintroduced alternate-day use for passenger cars from Nov. 3 to 12.

Wang Siyue, 24, who sells lessons at a private English school in Beijing, said his commute normally takes him 15 minutes by car. He anticipates it will take him more than an hour to get to work during APEC.

“Commuting to work will be such a pain without my car,” he said. “Too bad we ordinary residents have no choice but to obey.”

— With assistance by Tian Chen

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