China wants everything to go perfectly as it prepares to receive important guests for the upcoming APEC summit. Their efforts, however, aren't appreciated by all in Beijing, says DW's Frank Sieren.
Beijing has cleaned itself up for the big Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. Just like it did for the Olympic Games six years ago, the government has spared no expense for the arrival of Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin and the more than a dozen government heads awaited on Monday. State and Party leader Xi Jinping would like to present his guests a less crowded and, above all, smog-free capital. Employees of state companies, schoolchildren and university students have therefore been enjoying a special five-day vacation that began last Thursday, which ought to reduce street traffic in the city by half.
Beijing has encouraged those who can afford it to travel outside of the city on their extra vacation days. And this wish was indeed fulfilled: the number of requested travel permits has increased by 40 percent in the days leading up to the summit, helped by the fact that travel agencies offered short trips at bargain prices.
Another reason why many are driven away from Beijing: You can not do much in the city during the APEC summit. At least not if you are used to getting around the city by car. Even during a normal week in the Chinese capital, there are even and odd license plate number days, and you may only drive on your appointed day. Now, since Wednesday, those already stringent rules have once again been tightened even further.
The planning is so meticulous that you are not even allowed to bring sticks of incense to light in any of Beijing's many temples, wedding parties may no longer, as tradition dictates, light Chinese firecrackers and for now, no food may be cooked on open fires in the food stalls that line the streets. For weeks it has even been forbidden for relatives to burn paper flowers for the dead.
Industry operating in and around Beijing has been particularly hard hit by the new restrictions. Thousands of factories have had to adjust their production or completely shut down during the APEC summit so that their exhaust does not blow, as it usually does, in the direction of the capital.
Residents of the city have had to pay the price for this in recent weeks: October is usually the time of year when the air is best, as strong winds blow the smog away from the city. This year, however, the air was particularly bad, because those factories which have now shut down for the summit had to accelerate production to make up for the stoppages.
"Everything because of APEC"
That Beijing has spent about 2.5 billion dollars for all the preparations shows how important this summit is to the government. The guests are not just anyone, but rather top politicians from 21 Pacific nations, representing 40 percent of the world's population and 44 percent of world trade.
The people of Beijing, however, have mixed feelings about the event, and those who do not have vacation during the summit are especially inclined to sneer. If anything goes wrong in the coming days- you arrive too late at a meeting, the food in a restaurant doesn't taste good, or you just have a headache, the reason why is clear: "Dou yinwei APEC," everything because of APEC.
The tarnished joy of "Singles Day"
If anyone is worried about their business, it's Jack Ma. The richest man in China and head of the online retailer Alibaba fears he will upset his customers because of the APEC summit. Tuesday is not only the last day of the economic meeting of nations, but it is also "Singles Day" in China. Every year on this day, China's online retailers offer their best discounts and promotions and achieve many times their usual earnings.
However, because of the summit, only limited parcel delivery is possible. Instead of looking forward to the usual same-day delivery, Beijing-based customers of the biggest shopping websites will have to wait a few days this time. But given the record profits of Alibaba, Ma should just let it go and call it a service to China. As former US President John F. Kennedy once said: Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.
DW columnist Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for twenty years.