Why is China destroying barbecues?

Air pollution is killing millions, and the government has responded by confiscating 500 illegal barbecues.

In a move to combat smog in Beijing - where air pollution levels are often over 20 times the limit defined safe by the World Health Organisation – the Chinese government is cracking down on outdoor barbeques. AFP reports that over 500 have been confiscated by authorities, and illegal barbecue owners are being fined over $3,938, according to China Daily.

The government’s decision has been ridiculed on China’s social media. The move will put hundreds of street vendors out of business, many of whom are from the restive Uighur state, as Reuters notes. It also means that many Beijing residents won't be able to enjoy some of their much loved street food. But more than being unpopular, it's pretty ineffective as an anti-pollution intervention: outdoor barbecues don’t contribute anywhere near as much air pollution as vehicles or factory fumes.

The Chinese government is trying to limit pollution in other ways; cars with odd and even number plates are allowed to drive on alternate days, to try and clamp down on exhaust fumes. Around 1200 polluting factories are due to close, according to Beijing’s environmental bureau.

In the meantime, however, the residents of Beijing are slowly choking to death. According to a World Bank report in early 2013, an estimated 1.2 million people in China died prematurely due to air pollution alone. 500 fewer barbecues won’t change that.

A street food seller in Sichuan. Photo: Getty.

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Theresa May shows again that Brexit means hard Brexit

The Prime Minister's promise of "an end to free movement" is incompatible with single market membership. 

Theresa May, it is commonly said, has told us nothing about Brexit. At today's PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn ran with this line, demanding that May offer "some clarity". In response, as she has before, May stated what has become her defining aim: "an end to free movement". This vow makes a "hard Brexit" (or "chaotic Brexit" as Corbyn called it) all but inevitable. The EU regards the "four freedoms" (goods, capital, services and people) as indivisible and will not grant the UK an exemption. The risk of empowering eurosceptics elsewhere is too great. Only at the cost of leaving the single market will the UK regain control of immigration.

May sought to open up a dividing line by declaring that "the Labour Party wants to continue with free movement" (it has refused to rule out its continuation). "I want to deliver on the will of the British people, he is trying to frustrate the British people," she said. The problem is determining what the people's will is. Though polls show voters want control of free movement, they also show they want to maintain single market membership. It is not only Boris Johnson who is pro-having cake and pro-eating it. 

Corbyn later revealed that he had been "consulting the great philosophers" as to the meaning of Brexit (a possible explanation for the non-mention of Heathrow, Zac Goldsmith's resignation and May's Goldman Sachs speech). "All I can come up with is Baldrick, who says our cunning plan is to have no plan," he quipped. Without missing a beat, May replied: "I'm interested that [he] chose Baldrick, of course the actor playing Baldrick was a member of the Labour Party, as I recall." (Tony Robinson, a Corbyn critic ("crap leader"), later tweeted that he still is one). "We're going to deliver the best possible deal in goods and services and we're going to deliver an end to free movement," May continued. The problem for her is that the latter aim means that the "best possible deal" may be a long way from the best. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.