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Hu's state visit mostly positive. Movement on Korean Peninsula. Stuck on currency, market reform. Differing views on human rights. Inflation, again. Guangdong's shift. Satire and China-Japan "soft-hard" power relations.
Top News: While it might be too early to tally the scorecard on the outcome of Chinese President Hu Jintao's first state visit to the United States — the first by a Chinese leader in 13 years — most commentators are giving the visit generally positive marks.
China and the U.S. agreed on a package of 70 deals for U.S. exports to China worth $45 billion, and on the "soft power" side, giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian have been given another five years stay in the National Zoo.
Perhaps most importantly comes the announcement that North and South Korea have agreed to resume military talks and direct contact, strengthening the notion that China, with some U.S. pressure, has helped cool down the tensions on the peninsula during the past month and also temper a source of friction between the U.S. and China.
On currency and better access for foreign companies to China's domestic markets, there doesn't seem to be much movement. China doesn't see the currency issue the way the U.S. does, at least publicly. As far as opening up domestic markets, that's easier said than done since within China there is a huge amount of local protectionism, bureaucratic red-tape, lack of transparency, corruption and a weak judicial system — facts that make operations difficult for all companies, Chinese as well as foreign ones.
In the joint press conference, Hu did admit — after missing the initial question — that there is "a lot to be done" about human rights in China and furthering democratic reform and strengthening the rule of law in the country, although the importance of reading a scripted statement about these issues is being debated, and generally, the Chinese public at large won't get wind of this because of the heavily-controlled state media.
China's definition of human rights is a bit different than most in the West, many point out, so when Hu talked about doing more he wasn't referring to releasing jailed activist Liu Xiaobo or locating missing lawyer Gao Zhisheng, but doing more to raise living standards in China to "improve the human rights" of the majority of the country's citizens.
Questions also remain about how China and the U.S. can play nice on the globe as China becomes more economically and militarily powerful and the U.S. sees its relative power slip. But no matter how many Times Square advertisements China's propaganda department purchases, until there is a real attempt to introduce political reform that could match its amazing economic progress of the past three decades, China's attempts at projecting "soft power" are not likely to be bought by many.
Money: Inflation remains the major concern for many in China, and the announcement that China grew 10.3 percent in 2010 hasn't helped cool those fears. Excess cash and a bank lending binge are making it difficult for the country's monetary authorities to move on raising interest rates. While allowing the yuan to rise against the dollar could help ease some of the cash flow issues, Beijing is wary of any quick moves that would seriously damage its export markets.
Yet interesting changes are afoot in Guangdong province, China's traditional manufacturing and export heartland, that show some of the country's attempts to transition away from the export-led model to a more "innovative" economy model, as the government here coins it.
The provincial government has promised to raise the minimum wage significantly during the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) period, and possibly as much as 19 percent this year, something that could spur a flight of some manufacturers from the region. Hong Kong manufacturers are already signaling that they may have to move out.
Guangdong and the city of Shenzhen, just opposite Hong Kong, are also pledging to move forward with implementing reforms for more collective bargaining rights for workers here, something else Hong Kong and Taiwan manufacturers say might cause them to move elsewhere.
Elsewhere: Taiwan's Next Media Animation is always spot on when skewering the U.S.-China relationship, as they did with their now well-known Sino-U.S. Rap Battle, and Hu's visit to Washington has sparked some new feats of satire.
In China, one of the more funny things from the past month was that netizens discovered that a microblog of a local police station in Dalian was only following, Twitter-style, one person: Japanese porn star Sora Aoi. Perhaps that's a positive for China-Japan — would that be soft or hard power? —relations.