South Korea, China to meet to tackle worsening air pollution

A South Korean policeman wearing a facial mask stands guard at Gwanghwamun square in Seoul, South Korea, in January. File Photo by Jeon Heon-kyun/EPA-EFE

Feb. 21 (UPI) — South Korean and Chinese officials are to meet next week to address the pressing issue of air pollution.

Environmental ministers from Seoul and Beijing are to discuss particulate matter from China at the Chinese capital, the first talks on the topic since the South Korean government ordered new policy to address pollution, Newsis reported Wednesday.

The talks are to begin next Tuesday, or about a month after heavily polluted air plagued the skies over Seoul and local critics said more needs to be done to address the problem.

The South Koreans initiated the discussions in January, and requested an environment ministerial meeting between the two sides. Chinese officials visiting Seoul quickly agreed to the idea despite upcoming events, according to Newsis; China is to hold its National People’s Congress next month.

South Korean government sources have said Seoul made the case for discussion by raising the “difficulties” that have emerged with harmful pollution, and the Chinese government is cooperating because of its official position to mitigate air problems.

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Topics to be discussed include countermeasures against air pollution, which includes the “yellow dust” that comes from the Chinese side of the Gobi Desert and fine particulate matter that originates from industrial sites.

The two sides could also discuss a “customized environment cooperation platform,” according to Newsis.

Pollution from China has been a problem for South Korea’s environment for more than a decade.

According to a study conducted at the Illinois Institute of Technology, South Koreans are discouraged from going outside when pollution becomes severe, particularly in the spring.

Matthew Shapiro, a political scientist at the university, said his studies show the pollution originates from China, but “is not necessarily all Chinese made,” given the large U.S. and Japanese industrial presence at manufacturing sites in China.

“We’re not actually talking only about Chinese pollution, we’re not even talking about Korean pollution as much as we are talking about American and Japanese pollution,” Shapiro has said. “This is something that we didn’t expect to focus on during the study.”

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