Hanging over his head was the ire of US lawmakers and the impending twice-yearly US Treasury Department report on global exchange-rate policies, which had been delayed until after the visit as the Bush administration weighed up whether or not to brand China a currency manipulator.
While Daniel survived the lion’s den thanks to divine intervention, Hu made sure that he went into his White House meetings with the backing of two angels of corporate America; Boeing and Bill Gates. Hu didn’t want for headlines and photo ops as he toured the Washington state headquarters of both Microsoft and Boeing, while Microsoft CEO Gates served up the "state dinner" that the White House had declined to hold.
Boeing’s recently secured US$4 billion order from China was held up as a reminder of mutually beneficial Sino-US ties, but it was at Microsoft that Hu pulled out his best line. Reaffirming China’s commitment to stamping out software piracy and improving IPR protection as a whole, he added: "Bill Gates is a friend of China, and I am a friend of Microsoft".
President George W. Bush was in no position to match that as US officials failed to make significant breakthroughs with their Chinese counterparts on key security issues on which they need Beijing’s help. China’s oil interests in Iran and Sudan remain an obstacle to Washington getting UN Security Council backing for a tougher line on nuclear and human rights issues, respectively.
Nevertheless, Hu’s explanation of China’s exchange rate policy was apparently sufficiently reassuring that the Treasury Department decided against accusing Beijing of currency manipulation. It settled on promising to "continue actively and frankly to press China to quicken the pace of renminbi flexibility", much to the annoyance of several members of Congress.
But the liberal use of terms like "realistic expectations" and "being practical" in post-announcement briefings by Treasury officials suggested that the government was prepared to let the yuan’s shallow upward curve trickle on a bit longer.
Bird flu: could do more
China fired five officials in its southwestern Sichuan province for failing to respond to an outbreak of bird flu in poultry between December 22 and 25 last year. The disciplinary action was announced a week after the World Health Organization said China had "room for improvement" in their fight against the deadly virus, citing inadequate response at local government levels. A statement on the Ministry of Health’s website reiterated that cover-ups and delays could facilitate the spread of the disease. Three people from Sichuan have contracted the virus. The latest Sichuan victim was an eight year-old girl admitted to a local hospital showing symptoms of fever and pneumonia on April 16. This brought China’s laboratory-confirmed cases to 18, 12 of which have been fatal.
Human rights pledge
China promised to fulfill its obligations under the terms of international human rights accords after it was elected to the newly founded United Nations Human Rights Council. The 191-member UN General Assembly elected 47 members from the 64 countries that ran for seats on the council through a three-round secret ballot. China polled 146 votes, 50 more than it needed. "The Chinese Government has always been committed to the promotion and protection of human rights and basic freedoms," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao in Beijing. Cuba and Saudi Arabia were also elected, Iran failed to make the cut, and the US chose not to stand. The council, which replaces the now defunct Human Rights Commission, will hold its first meeting in Geneva on June 19.
Arrests in media purge
Chinese dissident Yang Tian-shui received a 12-year jail sentence for subversion as part of a media crackdown that saw five journalists charged with extortion. Yang, 45, who was imprisoned from 1990 to 2000 for "counter-revolutionary" crimes, was convicted of organizing pro-democracy activities and publishing anti-government articles online. Yang’s lawyer said his client pleaded innocent and argued that the trial was illegal and insulting. In a separate case, Yang Xiaoqing, a journalist at a Communist Youth Party-run newspaper, was arrested on extortion charges related to his research into local corruption. Meanwhile, four Beijing-based reporters were arrested for investigating "irregularities" at state institutions and trying to extort money from them, state media reported.
Independence means war
US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick told a congressional committee last month that a move by Taiwan toward independence would only mean war. Highlighting China’s "near-term military buildup", Zoellick said Washington was faced with a difficult balancing act to avoid being drawn into a war it does not want. "The balance is that we want to be supportive of Taiwan while we’re not encouraging those that try to move toward independence," he said. "Because, let me be very clear: independence means war." A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson called on the US to stop selling arms to Taiwan.
Green index axed
The government scrapped its plan for a "green measure" of GDP amid escalating concern about the toll economic growth has taken on the environment. Leaders called for the index three years ago to help assess the performance of local politicians. However, an official from the National Bureau of Statistics said it was "virtually impossible" to calculate a GDP figure adjusted for environmental impact. The latest five-year plan, released in March, calls for balanced growth, rather than pursuing expansion at any cost.
SCO to hold military drills
The six Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) nations – China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – agreed to hold anti-terrorism drills in 2007 following a meeting of the countries’ defense ministers in Beijing. The SCO was officially founded in 2001 with a mission to maintain peace and stability, but it is seen by many as a means of counterbalancing US influence in the region. The first SCO military drills, which did not include Uzbekistan, took place in 2003, again with an anti-terror theme.
China takes on Vatican
The Vatican threatened to excommunicate two bishops ordained by China’s independent Catholic church without papal approval. Officials acting for the Holy See also suspended a review of the status of Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu, who was ordained without Vatican approval in 2000, along with four other clerics. The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association hit back and officially installed Zhan as head of the Mindong Diocese in the southern city of Ningde, where he had been informally appointed last year. China has 97 Catholic dioceses, of which 42 have no bishop. Beijing has refused to have official contact with the Vatican until it ends relations with Taiwan and pledges not to interfere in the selection of Chinese clergy and bishops. Official figures show there are more than 5 million Catholics in China.
Yahoo seeks support
Internet company Yahoo said it had turned to the US government for help in promoting media freedoms in China. The announcement came following reports of a fourth case in which information supplied to the authorities by Yahoo led to the jailing of a dissident. It emerged that the company was referenced in a 2003 Chinese court decision sentencing an individual to 10 years in prison for publishing subversive information on the internet. Yahoo Chairman and CEO Terry Semel said the company had no choice but to comply with local laws and did not have the power to change Chinese policy. But he added that closing the company’s China operations would do nothing to boost free speech.
Few jobs for graduates
Up to 60% of graduates leaving universities this year will not be able to find jobs, according to a National Development and Reform Commission report. Around 4.13 million students will complete their studies this year, 22% more than in 2005, but it is thought there will only be positions for 1.66 million graduates, down 22% year-on-year. "It is hard to create new jobs in large numbers due to surplus production capacity, more trade friction and the revaluation of the yuan," said Zhang Xiaojian, a vice minister at the Ministry of Labor and Social Security. "As a result, it will be less easy to tackle employment pressure."
Hong Kong tourism slips
There was a 20% drop in mainland visitors to Hong Kong during the week-long May holiday, a peak time for tourism. The number of guides employed during the holiday halved and overall earnings were down by 70-80%, according to the Hong Kong Tourist Guides Association. Some reports blamed the drop on the behavior of unscrupulous tour operators, who are said to demand money from local tour guides for each tourist in the group, who in turn ask retailers and hotels for a bigger commission. The end result is heavy-handed pressure on tourists to spend more.
Piracy prevails: survey
The enforcement of intellectual property rights in China has not improved, according to a membership survey carried out by the American Chamber of Commerce in China. Of the 214 US companies surveyed, 55% said enforcement levels remained the same while 7% believe they have deteriorated. The majority – 55% – said their business was being damaged by poor IPR protection and 41% said that counterfeit copies of goods they produced increased during 2005. Charles Martin, president of AmCham China, argued that the punishments imposed for IPR violations were not strong enough to deter people from committing crimes.