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Obama's Beijing honeymoon is over

Beijing and Washington battle over the Dalai Lama, anti-missile tests and chicken parts. Snow hampers New Year travel. Officials investigate more melamine in milk, and now mercury in Sprite. Moms will police the Internet. An activist is jailed for investigating Sichuan earthquake school deaths. Water pollution is twice as bad as previously believed, but air pollution in Shanghai is "excellent." Jiangsu province raises its minimum wage and Shanghai raises its retirement age. Ticketmaster closes its China offices, while McDonald's expands. Shanghai destroys a legendary food street. And paleontologists unveil the earliest known relative of birds.

Top News:  Sino-US relations have also been icy lately. China will hit US chicken products with anti-dumping duties. US poultry farmers have been packing up their chicken feet and wing tips, which are worthless at home, and sending t to China, where they are happily bought and eaten. China said that the cheap imports are hurting their poultry industry. The case will likely head to the WTO.

China is also angry that President Obama is planning a meeting with the Dalai Lama. They said that if the meeting takes place it will seriously harm US-China relations. In addition, China’s recent meeting with Tibetan envoys was a failure after Chinese negotiators refused to discuss increased autonomy for Tibet and would only discuss the Dalai Lama’s exile status.

Tensions are so high that the U.S. Air Force is now contemplating decreasing its reliance on satellites. Air Force officials say that after China’s recent anti-missile tests, American satellites could potentially be destroyed. The officials also intimated that China was jamming U.S. satellite signals.

Heavy snowstorms and freezing temperatures in northern China have been causing problems for Chinese New Year travelers. Several roads and airports throughout China have been closed and more blizzards are expected late this week. Travelers have until Saturday to get home for the holidays. So far, the weather hasn’t been as bad as during the 2008 holiday, which saw millions stranded on their way home.

The melamine milk scandal doesn’t seem to be going away. Four people in Shaanxi province have been arrested for selling melamine-tainted milk products that were supposed to have been destroyed. China also shut down three ice-cream makers in Liaoning province for using melamine tainted milk powder. Altogether, authorities have found 170 tons of milk powder that should have been destroyed.

In what could erupt into a similar scandal, two people have been hospitalized with mercury poisoning after drinking tainted Sprite. Coca-Cola China, which produces the beverage, is cooperating with the investigation.

China has enlisted a new group to assist in its never ending crackdown on the Internet – moms. Sixty mothers have been chosen to scour the Internet for websites that are deemed unsuitable for children. The nation-wide campaign has already shut down 15,000 websites.

China seems less worried, though, about who was responsible for the shoddy construction of schools in the Sichuan earthquake zone. Tan Zuoren, an activist who was investigating the deaths of students in the earthquake, was sentenced to five years in prison for inciting to subvert state power.

In a hope to cut down on protests of building demolitions, Beijing has proposed a new law that will change the character painted on buildings set to be destroyed. Now, China uses the character chai, meaning demolish, but it will change it to ban qian, meaning relocation.

Over 300 villagers from Hengshishui in Guangdong attacked a provincial level government building to protest a water diversion plan. The plan would divert water from the already thirsty village to another, larger town. Six people were injured.

In a disturbing report, environmental officials said that water pollution was twice as bad as the government had indicated in 2007. The earlier report had not included agricultural wastewater, the largest water pollutant in China.

Shanghai had its best year for air quality since records began. 334 days of 2009 had good or excellent quality air. (As a resident, I find this very surprising. It might be because China does not measure small particulate matter in its pollution statistics, which is actual more dangerous than large particulate matter.)

The Ministry of Health has launched a mental health program. Every province will be required to operate at least one mental health hotline, free of charge. Twenty percent of all diseases in China are attributed to mental health disorders.

Money: Jiangsu province, which is among China’s leading export zones, has raised its minimum wage by 13 percent. The move will likely be copied nationwide. Economists believe that the move could help increase domestic consumption to make up for lost exports. However, it could also contribute to inflation.

Shanghai will increase the retirement age as a way to ease fiscal pressure on its pension fund. Due in part to the one child policy, China’s population is quickly aging and providing social care for the elderly is expected to be a huge challenge for China’s economy.

Ticketmaster China has closed down operations. The company had purchased Emma Entertainment in 2007, but after years of debacles, ranging from poor ticket sales to the government banning certain international acts, the company could no longer make it work.

McDonald's, on the other hand, is doing well in China. The fast food chain said that it would increase its capital investment in China this year by 25 percent. The company is planning on opening another 150 to 175 more outlets, creating about 10,000 jobs.

Elsewhere: Chinese paleontologists have unveiled the Haplocheirus sollers, a dinosaur that is the earliest known relative of birds. The fossil was discovered in an orange mudstone bed in Xinjiang province.

It’s official: Shanghai’s legendary food street, Wujiang Lu, the former home of dozens of amazing street food vendors, has been destroyed. Although it’s been two years since the announcement and nearly all of the vendors had long ago closed down or moved, seeing the bulldozers destroy the Shanghai landmark was still a bit shocking. If you are in town and want to see a food street, head over to Shouning Lu instead, while you still can.