Walking through Beijing's Tiananmen Square last week, a German family of five surrounded me, all wearing large face masks and sunglasses. They weren't robbing me, just asking me to take their photo. When I yelled the customary "Say 'cheese,'" the dad joked: "We are smiling under here."
Only China's pollution bubble is no laughing matter, and tourists tell the story. Thanks to extreme air pollution, foreign arrivals plunged by roughly 50 percent in the first three-quarters of the year. Beijing could see even fewer visitors to the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and the famous square dominated by a painting of Mao Zedong thanks to images of acrid smog that have been beaming around the globe.
The timing doesn't help. Jokes about renaming the city "Grayjing" or "Beige-jing" coincide with the Communist Party's much-anticipated Third Plenum meeting Nov. 9-12. In a more democratic system, that might increase the urgency to act boldly to address a bad-air crisis that's literally impossible not to see. But early signals aren't encouraging. News media leaks have the more than 200 members of the party's Central Committee crafting a vague blueprint for readjusting China's economic structure. Nowhere are there hints the plan will do what China really needs to do: Ban coal.
David Fuller's view This looks like a short-sighted policy, indicating probable disagreement among government factions.