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China Roiled by Washington's October Surprise

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BAHIA, BRAZIL -- Media in South America responded passionately to Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa receiving the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature for his cartography of the structures of global power. But with China establishing a stronger economic footprint in the region, coverage of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo has been more circumspect. US public diplomacy has morphed the Liu case out of the soft power human rights community into the hard power arena of economic warfare designed to pressure Beijing to revalue the Yuan and give Democrats badly needed credibility, votes and dollars in the run up to US midterm elections.

Liu is a former president of the Independent China PEN Centre. PEN International president John Ralston Saul said that giving the Nobel award to Liu "is an affirmation of the central importance to everyone of freedom of expression, of which he is a courageous exponent."

A professional activist and asset of the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Liu was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, ostensibly for defending the right of Chinese workers to freely express their discontent, including dissatisfaction with low wages in an economy designed to produce high value goods for US-headquartered globalist giants like Wal-Mart, HP and Japan's Honda.

But the Chinese workers empowered by Liu will only be hurt by the weaker Yuan that some economists and global firms want. Their earning power will be reduced and companies that buy from China will view them as transient human capital, moving on to even cheaper labor markets, creating risk and instability that could jolt the world economic order. In spite of government mandated increases, basic wages in Mandarin and non-Mandarin speaking regions of China remain low, and protests and strikes among Liu's followers are escalating from peaceful to violent.

Beijing's fulminations suggesting that Washington has used the Nobel to meddle in China's internal politics -- and Washington prosecuting its currency war with Beijing -- represent a lesson in how two hard power economic giants with different cultures and infrastructures manage social issues and expectations. And how they do this amidst the uncertainties of the foundering global economy whose collapse they helped bring on themselves.

For Liu's followers, seeking cultural freedom in low wage China to buy one copy of Jonathan Franzen's book Freedom and read his stories, they would have to work four days at the basic 960 yuan monthly wage (US$143). And they might consider asking for half off since Franzen is on the record as saying that words are effective only half the time. An average American in Michael Moore's Flint, Michigan earning the US minimum wage would need to work just four hours to buy that same book and he or she might consider asking for a fifty percent discount too. US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke has urged Americans to buy goods made in the USA to help reduce the huge trade imbalance with China. But when big business pays Chinese labor in a month what they would have to pay American workers for just a week of work, that argument fails to make economic sense.

China's histrionics and Washington's big public diplomacy play have overshadowed the fact that a groundswell of young Chinese writers are taking to the internet to campaign for a more open Chinese society. One-third of the 37 names on the current PEN International Writers in the Prison List for China are serving long sentences for using the internet. Even if Beijing rolls out its own brand of digital democracy conflict between netizens and Chinese security officials -- who shut down websites as a form of job security much as US cops issue parking tickets -- will cause that number to increase big time.

In an August interview with The Economist, Sidney Rittenberg, for many years a translator and confidante of Peoples Republic of China founder Mao Zedong and the first American to join the Chinese Communist Party, said "the one thing you can't do in today's China is write it down. You are inviting trouble." In spite of his close ties to Chairman Mao and others in China's leadership, Rittenberg, who returned from China to the United States in 1979, spent fifteen years in solitary confinement. Rittenberg's China connections enable him to head up a successful consultancy that represents some of the key players in the computer and internet industries including Microsoft and Intel.

But other Old Guard, including former "Peoples Daily" editor, Huang Jiwei, are now calling for an opening that would put an end to China's system of internet censorship.

Strong infrastructures that enable societies to grow and become more inclusive require healthy economies and strong defense establishments to defend their currencies and keep them secure. That's one reason US defense secretary Robert Gates and China's defense minister general Liang Gwanglie met in Hanoi less than 72 hours ago and, in heavily Tweeted coverage, agreed to hold talks next year in an effort to improve strained relations. Cybersecurity, oil politics, China's expanding role in Latin America and counterterrorism will all be on the agenda. And if Liu doesn't have his 'get out of jail' card by then, he might be too...