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Google vs. China

The relationship between China and the West is further strained. A democracy activist is sentenced to eleven years in prison. Toys and milk are still being contaminated by excessive amounts of chemicals. An oil spill in the Yellow River poisons the water. The country's top climate negotiator is demoted. Plans for a high-speed rail network are announced. Google threatens to close its China offices. China becomes the world's top exporter and the Shanghai Stock Exchange becomes Asia's busiest. Plus, China's first gay marriage takes place in Chengdu.

Top News: Increasing tensions between the West and China have dominated the news cycles recently. In the military realm, the U.S. sold PAC-3 air defense missiles, along with other weaponry to Taiwan. In response, China tested a new technology that intercepts and destroys missiles in mid-air. China refused to openly link the test with the U.S.’ sale of arms and also would not say if the new technology was successful.


The UK was outraged at the execution of a mentally ill British man, Akmal Shaikh, after he was allegedly tricked into importing heroin into China. China ignored Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s call for clemency and went ahead with the first execution of a European in China in more than 50 years.


The Chinese government was also under fire for sentencing democracy activist Liu Xiaobo to an 11-year prison sentence for “inciting subversion of state power.”  Liu has appealed the sentence and the court has 45 days to decide whether or not to overturn his conviction, an unlikely outcome.


The government of the restive Xinjiang province has nearly doubled its annual security budget for 2010 to $423 million. The Han-dominated government is still holding hundreds of Uighurs for rioting, and has sentenced nearly two dozen to death.


After a crackdown on lead use in children’s toys, Chinese manufacturers have begun using another dangerous heavy metal, cadmium. The cancerous material was found in a high percentage of Chinese-made children’s jewelry and charm bracelets. Some pieces contained 91 percent cadmium per weight, while law states that no more than 0.0003 percent of the total content of a good can be cadmium.


Shanghai Panda Dairy Co was shut down after authorities found that their condensed and powdered milk products contained excessive amounts of melamine. Even more worrying, it appears that government agencies did not disseminate the information or conduct a recall in a timely matter, instead allowing the knowingly tainted products to continue to be sold.


An oil spill from a pipeline in Northern China leaked into the Yellow River, poisoning water for some.  Despite attempts to hold back the spill, over 150,000 liters of diesel oil seeped into the river, forcing the government to tell citizens not to use water from the Yellow River.


With environmental accidents becoming commonplace and the world angry at China’s lack of compromise during the Copenhagen Climate Summit, it is no wonder that officials have demoted top climate negotiator and vice foreign minister He Yafei to a post at the UN. Rumor has it that top Chinese officials were disappointed with the public relations disaster that He’s last day blocking actions caused.


After completing a high-speed train between Guangzhou and the central Chinese city of Wuhan, China announced that it will spend $300 billion on building out its high-speed rail network this decade. By 2012, the country plans on having three dozen high-speed rail lines throughout the country and 130,000 workers are currently building the country’s most expensive rail project ever, the Shanghai-Beijing line.


Money: After Chinese hackers attempted to infiltrate the Gmail accounts of human rights activists, Google has said that it will stop censoring search results in China and has threatened to close its China offices. (While some have applauded Google’s stance as a brave stand against China, I have a different take. Here’s my analysis of the situation and how it is part of a greater trend of “Firewall Protectionism.”)


Despite the heat China is taking for Google and other anti-foreign business moves recently, the world continues to buy Chinese goods. China has overtaken Germany to become the world’s top exporter. In December, Chinese overseas shipments increased 17.7 percent compared to a year earlier and total exports for 2009 reached $1.2 trillion, beating Germany’s $1.18 trillion in exports.


The Shanghai Stock Exchange has overtaken the Tokyo Stock Exchange as Asia’s busiest by trading value. In 2009, $5.01 trillion in shares changed hands in Shanghai, compared to only $4.07 trillion in Tokyo.


Elsewhere: The new year has been an important time for gay rights in China. Today, Beijing will host the first Mr. Gay China Pageant and a few weeks ago Hong Kong also held a similar pageant. Meanwhile, two men, 47-year-old Zeng Ge and 27-year-old Xiao Pan, were married in Chengdu, in what is likely the first recorded case of gay marriage in China. Up until ten years ago, homosexuality was seen officially as a mental illness in China.


For those living in the Washington DC area, an extremely rare map made by the famed Jesuit Matteo Ricci, who lived in Beijing in the early 1600s is now on display at the Library of Congress. The map is the second most expensive map ever sold and shows detailed annotations of what the world was believed to be like back then.