Beijing's sprawling Shougang steelworks has promised to slash production for a full three months next year to help ease air pollution in the Chinese capital during the Olympic Games - but expects to receive government compensation for its "sacrifice".
"This is the people of Shougang's contribution to society and the whole world for the successful hosting of the Olympics," said Zhu Jimin, the steelworks' chairman, in an interview with the Financial Times.
Mr Zhu's comments come amid widespread speculation about what measures the often smog-bound capital will take to prevent air pollution hitting unsafe levels during the Games next August.
Liu Qi, Beijing's top official and the head of its Olympic organising committee, told the FT last month that it would not be necessary to force nearby factories to cut or suspend operations over the period.
However, Mr Zhu said that the government was "pretty satisfied" with Shougang's promise to cut its output from July to September next year to the bare minimum needed to maintain the safety of the plant and prevent damage to its blast and coke furnaces.
Shougang is already in the throes of relocation to a new site in neighbouring Hebei Province that will cut its capacity from about 8m tonnes of steel this year to 4m tonnes in 2008.
Mr Zhu said its Olympic plan would mean Shougang would "basically be in a shut-down state" for three months. He said that the reduced operations would leave output at about 30 per cent of this year's level, adding that the cut would cost Shougang hundreds of millions of renminbi and that it expected to be compensated.
"The government has already indicated that, if Shougang really does this, it will offer necessary assistance," Mr Zhu said. "For example, there could be a return of our tax payments, as a partial subsidy for our sacrifice and contribution to the Olympics."
While Shougang's promise to reduce operations could inspire other companies to follow suit without the need for formal government orders, its expectations for compensation highlight the lack of clarity surrounding Beijing's handling of the issue.
The capital and neighbouring provinces have improved pollution controls in recent years, but rapid industrialisation and soaring vehicle use has eroded and in some cases reversed the gains these measures have made.
A report this year by the US energy department's Argonne National Laboratory said that even if Beijing itself emitted no man-made pollutants, the city could still suffer dangerous levels of fine particulates and ozone next August.
Local media have cited reports of government plans for wide-ranging curbs on industrial activity during the Games, in spite of last month's comments by Mr Liu, the capital's Communist party secretary. However, companies have said they are unaware of such plans.
In an interview last week, Wang Yongjian, chairman of Beijing Yanshan Petrochemical, said its plant in the capital would definitely not shut down or cut back production before or during the games.
"We will operate normally during that time," Mr Wang said. ( FT )