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China has no plans to order factories in and around Beijing to suspend operations during next year's Olympic Games, in spite of concerns about the effect of air pollution on athletes.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Liu Qi, Beijing Communist party chief and head of the Olympic organising committee, waved aside worries that bad air could mar a sporting event in which the government has invested enormous political capital.
"We are completely confident that Olympic athletes will be able to take part in their competitions normally next August," Mr Liu said.
With analysts reporting that concentrations of fine particulates and ozone often hit unsafe levels in Beijing in summer, it had been widely assumed that China would order some companies in the city and nearby provinces to close or cut back production during the event.
However, Mr Liu said while regional governments were co-operating with efforts to combat air pollution, the focus was on implementing existing environmental rules rather than on temporary measures.
"The main thing is to strengthen factories' management of gases and reduce emissions of pollutants," said Mr Liu, one of 23 members of the Chinese Communist party's politburo. "We have not made any demand for suspensions of operations."
His comments are Beijing's most direct response yet to speculation about how it will handle an issue that has threatened to overshadow its Olympic preparations.
Last month, celebrations to mark one year to go to the August 8 2008 opening of the Games were clouded by warnings from Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, that bad air could force changes to the timing of some outdoor events.
But Mr Liu said trials last month of measures to reduce emissions had gone well, with air pollution falling about 20 per cent in the city. The measures have included removing 1.3m cars from the streets, the suspension of earth-moving work and bans on some types of vehicles.
Mr Liu said 28 of August's 31 days had enjoyed "good weather" with a relatively healthy rating of two on the city's benchmark five-point pollution index.
Such confidence contrasts sharply with the perceptions of some observers who found many days last month unpleasantly smoggy. It is also unclear whether local action will be enough to address air quality concerns.
A report this year by the US energy department's Argonne National Laboratory said that even if Beijing itself emitted no man-made pollutants, fine particulates and ozone could still hit dangerous levels.
The government has long struggled to enforce environmental standards, and even if pre-Olympic efforts are more effective, the gains could be outweighed by the sheer pace of China's industrial development.
Mr Liu, who is the capital's most powerful official, said the Chinese Academy of Sciences was working with local environmental officials and US companies to draw up a comprehensive assessment of air pollution in Beijing and may make the report public.
More than 100 Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai have said they will take part in the country's first official urban "car-free day" on Saturday, barring automobiles from selected areas and ordering officials to swap their sedans for public transport.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
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