China hides choking truth from visiting leaders

BEIJING -- Leaders from around the world are meeting in Beijing as part of APEC, an economic development conference for countries bordering the Pacific.

China is taking great steps to have a picture-perfect backdrop for the talks, creating a six-day holiday to encourage residents to leave the city, reports CBS News correspondent Seth Doane.

China's smog now 20 times worse than safe levels

The skies welcoming President Obama have been dubbed "APEC Blue" by residents, but trying to get them to look that way in a city known for its hazardous air has not been easy.

Cars are only permitted on the road half the time -- even numbered plates allowed to be driven one day, odd numbered plates the next. It's brought traffic congestion down 70 percent in China's capital.

To reduce pollution by about a third, government offices and schools have been closed and factories are shut down, including more than 140 heavy-polluting companies.

"I think it's a bit ridiculous to force the factories to close down," local student Wing said.

"I think that the anti-pollution is not enough," another student Ariel added.

These students are in a U.S. - China relations class at Beijing's Tsinghua University, which is now closed for the "APEC holiday."

Wing thinks the government is taking these steps to cut down on pollution just to improve Beijing's image as world leaders descend upon the city.

"Whenever you have APEC talks, environment is a big factor," she said. "If Beijing has very bad pollution everyone can see it right before their eyes and everyone will be pointing to China."

Climate change is on the agenda, and a Chinese government official declared good air quality the "priority of priorities."

An editorial in the state-linked "China Daily" said, "Beijing residents will no doubt feel uneasy when the city is once again smothered in smog after the APEC meeting, but they will get used to it as they did before."

In late October, marathon runners were forced to race in hazardous pollution. Chinese clothing designers have even incorporated face-masks into upcoming collections as battling smog is a part of everyday life -- when foreign leaders are not in town.

The anti-pollution measures are the most significant since Beijing hosted the Olympics in 2008 and even despite those measures, residents have seen pollution levels rise.