Lashing out at the U.S. only highlights the Chinese leadership's inability to clean up the country's air and further erodes their credibility with the public.
Last week the Chinese government accused the U.S. Embassy and consulates of illegally interfering in China's domestic affairs by publishing online hourly air-quality information collected from their own monitoring equipment. (While the critiques didn't name the U.S., the U.S. Embassy is the only foreign embassy reporting air quality information.)
Going public with an anti-foreign attack about local air pollution is just asking for ridicule from the increasingly skeptical Chinese public. Netizens responded accordingly. "Why does reading the domestic news feel like reading a bunch of jokes?" asked one commentator. "Do you think people are blind? How many blue-sky days has Beijing had lately? Do you think ordinary people will only believe your own statements?" grumbled another.
This self-defeating action is symptomatic of a panicky leadership with a severe credibility problem. China's leaders are floundering in their efforts to prevent any more unscripted events like the Bo Xilai or Chen Guangcheng affairs from interfering with the leadership succession scheduled for the fall of 2012.
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Chief among their concerns is social unrest that could turn against them and threaten the survival of Communist Party rule. When issues of public concern like tainted food and medicine or environmental pollution agitate the increasingly vocal urban middle class to complain or petition over the internet, China's leaders usually try to solve the underlying problem promptly and show the public that they are looking out for its welfare. They seem to have learned a lesson from the SARS epidemic in 2003 that suppressing information about a public health threat instead of addressing it head-on will only backfire.