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AIG: Adventures in geopolitics

Yes, bonuses are an outrage. But they're much more than that.

AIG CEO Edward Liddy looks back at protestors from the group "Code Pink" as he arrives to testify before the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government Sponsored Enterprises in Washington, March 18, 2009. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

“Arrogance. Ignorance. Greed.”

“A stone in America’s shoe.”

“All the (AIG) executives and their families should be executed with piano wire around their neck.”

These comments are but a tiny sampling of the outrage that exploded in the U.S. this week over the latest AIG mess — $165 million in “retention bonuses” paid to executives of the failed firm.

But as the Obama administration scrambles for a response to the domestic political peril posed by AIG, and the House of Representatives scrambles for legislation that will tax bonuses like these, the reaction we should be paying the most attention to is occurring far outside the Beltway.

Listen carefully to Chinese Premiere Wen Jiabao:

“We are very concerned about the economic developments in the U.S. economy,” the Chinese leader told reporters late last week. “We have lent a huge amount of money to the United States and of course we’re concerned about the security of our assets and, to be honest, I am a little bit worried.”

In the rarefied and reserved world of public diplomacy, this is a smackdown. It’s like your banker calling you into his corner office and saying: “Cool it on the spending. Now.”

China is the largest holder of U.S. debt, passing Japan in September for that honor. The country now owns roughly $1 trillion in U.S. Treasuries and other government-backed bonds, or about $1 dollar for every $10 in U.S. debt.