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BEIJING (Reuters) - Beijing's bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics will spur the city in its fight against a serious air pollution, a senior official said on Saturday, putting an overall figure of $7.6 billion on efforts to tackle the issue.
While Beijing made strenuous efforts to clean up its air in time for the 2008 summer Olympics, the city still suffers from terrible smog, so bad on occasion that it forces the airport to shut and envelops everything with a thick, choking haze.
"I think this is a fact -- Beijing's air at the moment has a problem. We all know it. This is a problem that we have great determination to resolve," Wang Hui, spokeswoman for the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games Bid Committee, told a news briefing.
"The measures we have taken are the toughest," she added, speaking ahead of a visit to China next week by an International Olympic Committee (IOC) evaluation team.
The government is spending 47 billion yuan ($7.6 billion) -- organizers later said the figure was actually 48 billion yuan -- to fight smog, she added, without providing a timeframe or linking it directly to the bid.
"Applying for the Winter Olympics will promote the tackling of air pollution in Beijing, and this will be conducive to our bid," Wang said.
Average levels of hazardous airborne particles known as PM2.5 stood at 85.9 micrograms per cubic meters in 2014, down four percent compared with the previous year, but still far higher than the national air quality standard of 35 micrograms.
Beijing plans to bring readings down to 60 by 2017, the municipal environmental bureau said earlier this year.
However Wang denied that the government had taken any special measures to ensure clean air for the IOC team's visit, such as ordering an emergency shut down of factories, which often happens over important international events in Beijing.
"I think this is a rational assumption, but it's not the case. When the IOC evaluation team come, we want them to see a natural Beijing and Zhangjiakou," she said, referring to the nearby city jointly bidding with the capital for the Games.
With South Korea's Pyeonchang hosting the 2018 Winter Games and Tokyo the 2020 Summer Games, the odds of Asia getting a third successive Olympics had initially seemed remote.
But only Beijing and Kazakhstan's Almaty have been left in the 2022 race though neither city is a winter sports powerhouse.
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty