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China upset about embassies issuing air-pollution readings

FILE - In this Jan. 10, 2012 file photo, a man rides an electric bike crossing a street shrouded by haze in Beijing. A senior Chinese environmental official told foreign embassies on Tuesday, June 5, 2012 to stop publishing their own reports on air quality in China, a clear reference to a popular U.S. Embassy Twitter feed that tracks pollution in smoggy Beijing. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)

Andy Wong/AP

A senior Chinese official demanded on Tuesday that foreign embassies stop issuing air-pollution readings, saying it was against the law and diplomatic conventions. It was a pointed criticism of a closely watched U.S. embassy index.

The level of air pollution in China's capital varies, depending on the wind, but a cocktail of smokestack emissions, vehicle exhaust, dust and aerosols often blankets the city in a pungent, beige shroud for days on end. Many residents dismiss the common official readings of "slight" pollution in Beijing as grossly understated.

The U.S. embassy has installed a monitoring point on its roof which releases hourly air-quality data via a widely followed Twitter feed. While China tightened air-pollution monitoring standards in January, the official reading and the U.S. embassy reading can often be far apart.

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Chinese experts have criticized the single U.S. embassy monitoring point as "unscientific." Deputy Environment Minister Wu Xiaoqing went a step further, saying such readings were illegal and should stop, though he did not directly name the United States.

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