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In Cleanup Effort, Beijing Moved Factories to Clog Air Elsewhere

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By Ariana Eunjung Cha
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, August 7, 2008

TANGSHAN, China -- Seven years ago, when Beijing won the privilege of hosting the 2008 Olympic Games, the Chinese capital promised to fix its environmental problems. Among the toughest measures it took was to eliminate hundreds of highly polluting factories.

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But most of these companies didn't shut down. They simply moved.

The village where fisherwoman Zhang Xiuping lives is now surrounded by factories.

As recently as five years ago, this region about 125 miles east of Beijing was a resort, and its sea overflowed with pike, flounder and carp. Now there are few fish, and it's a rare day when Zhang, 53, can see the sun through the smoke. She can tell the direction of the winds from the color of the soot blowing by her home. The gray iron deposits come from the southern steel mills, while the white powder comes from chemical factories, and black dust from coal and coking plants.

The relocation of factories out of Beijing is part of a mass migration of Chinese industry in recent years from wealthier cities, which have become environmentally conscious, to less developed ones. Critics have described the trend as "internal colonization" and questioned whether the country is truly serious about dealing with its pollution or just moving it around and hiding it.

Zhang's home province of Hebei, for decades the poorer, less sophisticated cousin of Beijing, now hosts the bulk of the companies that left the capital.

Her neighbor, factory worker Ren Yuexiang, 53, lives less than a mile from a coking plant that relocated from Beijing. She said the movement of the factories highlights the inequalities in China between the poor in the countryside and the wealthy in the city.

"No one cares about us," Ren said. "We are just farmers. In Beijing they are all high-class royals."

China has taken extreme measures to improve its air quality in time for the Olympic opening ceremony tomorrow. The government has cut the number of cars on the road by half and staggered work hours along with moving and temporarily closing factories.

Beijing's anti-pollution campaign is part of a broader attempt to remake a city that built its early fortunes on heavy industry into a hub for finance and technology. When the city began its cleanup efforts in 2001, it identified hundreds of steel, chemical, automobile, electronics companies and others that were dumping waste into the air and water, and ordered them to leave. More than 200 have stopped operating in Beijing; another 40 will be gone by the end of the year.

The capital's two most notorious polluters -- Shougang Group's Capital Iron and Steel Co., which had been just 10 miles west of Tiananmen Square, and the Beijing Coking-Chemical Plant -- are now in Tangshan.


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