by Xinhua writers Liu Lu, Fu Shuangqi, Yu Fei
BEIJING, Nov. 2 (Xinhua) -- Poor air quality in the capital of China and the mockery term "Beijing cough" has repeatedly embarrassed the country in the international arena.
In the latest example, American Grammy winner Patti Austin was forced to cancel her performance in the city on Oct. 18 after she suffered an asthma attack, as well as a respiratory infection.
The 63-year-old singer was in Beijing for the JZ Festival. The concert organizer did not say what triggered her illness but many music lovers blamed the poor air quality in the city. The index from Beijing environmental authorities showed the air was "heavily polluted" that day.
Environmental problems, affecting all people indiscriminately, now are common concerns of the Chinese and have triggered serious policy changes.
An important meeting of the Communist Party of China (CPC) will take place in November, focusing on deepening reform in "an all-round way."
Although it remains unknown what decisions will be made at the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee, people expect concrete moves to ensure sustainable development of the country. Such moves are unlikely to leave out environmental strategies.
Analysts hold that the importance of new reform initiatives could potentially be on par with that of China's economic reform introduced in 1978. After 35 years of reform and opening up, the majority of Chinese people no longer suffer from poverty and hunger. They are expecting the new round of reform can bring clean air and water and safe food.
Since early this year, the country has been under growing pressure to address the causes of air pollution after heavy smog affected more than 1 million square km in east China.
In Beijing, only five days were free of hazardous weather in January, with repeatedly higher-than-normal readings of PM2.5, fine particulate matter that is 2.5 microns or less in diameter.
In June, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said in a report that the quality of underground water was rated "poor" or "relatively poor" in 57.3 percent of 198 cities around the country.
The report also showed that the water quality of about 30 percent of major rivers was poor according to the country's surface water standards.
Soil pollution has begun to worry the public since cadmium-contaminated rice in central China's Hunan Province came to light in May. As it is closely related to food safety, the public has asked authorities to reveal soil pollution data, as well as detailed measures on how to handle the problem.
China's top decision makers are aware of these challenges.
President Xi Jinping on May 24 pledged that China will not sacrifice the environment for temporary economic growth, calling for all-round efforts to conserve resources and curb pollution.
Speaking during a study session with members of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, he called for establishing a lifelong responsibility mechanism targeting those who take irresponsible decisions that leads to severe environmental consequences.
The government should set and strictly observe an ecological "red line", which requires all regions to optimize, prioritize, restrict or prohibit their industrial development according to their defined nature, he said.