The Monument to the People's Heroes on Tiananmen Square is shrouded in smog in Beijing, where extreme air pollution is forcing the government to take measures to reduce emissions. Photo: iStock

Heavy smog has once again blanketed northern China’s Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region since Monday.

Xinhua has admitted that China’s “war on pollution” is far from over with the return of filthy air even though spring could see a pickup in air quality judging from past experience.

The level of PM2.5 – tiny particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter that can be inhaled into people’s lungs – hovered at around 180 μg/m³ at the US embassy in downtown Beijing on Monday afternoon, more than seven times the recommended safe limit set by the World Health Organization.

The return of haze, following a winter which saw better air due to a drive to swap from coal to gas, triggered the environmental watchdog in Beijing to issue a red alert for air pollution, a stance which was followed by officials in Tianjin and Hebei.

The Ministry of Ecology and Environment said the smog would last till Wednesday, as emissions from factories and transportation could make the situation worse because many industries had resumed production after a temporary suspension over winter.

“North China has been experiencing a low pressure system, which weakens the circulation of air and allows pollution to hover,” Wang Gengchen, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Atmospheric Physics Institute.

But the smog may useful for the People’s Liberation Army, as the army is rumored to be expediting the movement of new weaponry under the “camouflage of dusky air” with foreign nations’ spy satellites having trouble getting a clear picture of the latest deployments in northern China.

A military commentator noted on a forum managed by the PLA Daily that hazy sky was ideal for the Air Force to test new fighters and other aircraft, as they could gauge the reliability of radar and communication systems while new planes were shielded from the prying eyes of overseas foes.

“Until now the US is still unclear about the actual deployment of our J-20s, and I think our nation’s haze is helping the fighters become even more stealthy,” another netizen said. 

PLA admiral Zhang Shaozhong Photo: China Central TV screen grab

Earlier, PLA admiral Zhang Shaozhong, who also speaks regularly on military affairs on China Central Television, caused a commotion by noting that his experience in the Air Force and Navy showed thick haze in China could “blind” laser-guided missiles from the US. Zhang was later much ridiculed for his anecdote.

Meanwhile, China News Service reported that a PLA regiment conducted a live drill in northwestern China earlier this month when visibility was reduced to less than 200 meters amid heavy smog. Planes took off and performed interception missions based on radar and infrared ray navigation systems to push the limit of both planes and pilots in adverse conditions.

Asia Times Financial is now live. Linking accurate news, insightful analysis and local knowledge with the ATF China Bond 50 Index, the world's first benchmark cross sector Chinese Bond Indices. Read ATF now.