China has gone to Olympian lengths to try to ensure that its skies are clear for the Summer Games, which formally kick off in 10 days. It has spent $17 billion on antipollution measures in recent years. Last week, it forced more than a million cars off the streets, halted construction in and around the city, and temporarily closed hundreds of factories in surrounding provinces.
But despite these measures, the Chinese capital remains mired in a gray haze, and the government's pollution readings have exceeded its own safe levels four out of the past eight days.
Now, with the prospect of international embarrassment looming, officials are considering even tougher measures, including shutting more factories. They might also ban as many as 90 percent of Beijing's private vehicles on especially bad days during the Games, a government adviser said Monday. Special lanes for Olympic VIPs may be abandoned because officials say they're causing extra congestion and making the air worse.
"I'm concerned," says Zhu Tong, the government adviser and an environmental scientist at China's prestigious Peking University. Mr. Zhu helped draft Beijing's blueprint for bluer skies. Pollution is proving tougher to beat than anyone expected, he said in an interview.
The success or failure of Beijing's efforts in the coming days could help determine whether China's most important international event in modern times is itself a success. But it also has implications that go beyond the ability of the city to host a clean Games.