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Biden on mission to woo next China leader
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Aug 15, 2011

Bolivian leader jokes China could colonize US
La Paz (AFP) Aug 15, 2011 - Bolivian President Evo Morales on Monday joked that China was becoming such an economic powerhouse that it could soon colonize the United States.

"China is such a big country that I imagine in only a short time the United States will be a colony of China," he said at a press conference in the central city of Cochabamba following a recent trip to Beijing.

Morales said he had agreed with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao on the formation of a high-level bilateral committee to begin meeting in September to promote the industrialization of Bolivia's vast lithium resources.

China "is such a big country, so highly developed and industrialized that it is granting importance to Bolivia," added Morales, the leftist leader of one of South America's poorest countries.

Bolivia has an estimated 70 percent of the world's reserves of lithium, a mineral used in rechargeable batteries for laptops, mobile phones and electric cars.

Morales would like Bolivia to produce batteries, but has yet to reach a deal with an international partner that could supply the considerable capital required for such an undertaking.

Last year Morales commissioned a Chinese company to construct a satellite for Bolivia at a cost of $300 million, expected to be launched in 2013.

Bolivia has also purchased six Chinese combat aircraft at a cost of $58 million in order to combat drug trafficking.

Vice President Joe Biden heads to China Tuesday in hopes of winning favor with the rising power's next leader, seeking a smoother relationship after Beijing's sharp criticism of US fiscal policy.

Biden will spend five days in China, an unusually long trip that comes at the invitation of Vice President Xi Jinping who is expected to take over as China's leader by 2013 and is little known in US policy circles.

"Simply put, we're investing in the future of the US-China relationship," said Tony Blinken, the vice president's national security adviser.

The number-two US leader will also visit close ally Japan, where he will go to an area hit by the March 11 mega-earthquake and encourage a quick recovery, and Mongolia to praise its embrace of democracy.

In China, Biden will meet President Hu Jintao in Beijing and travel the country alongside Xi. In the southwestern boomtown of Chengdu, the vice presidents will dine at an informal restaurant and Biden will deliver a speech, Blinken said.

Biden's visit comes after stinging criticism in China's state-run media of the US "addiction to debt" following a deal reached by US lawmakers that narrowly averted a default. China is the largest foreign holder of US debt.

Lael Brainard, the undersecretary of the Treasury for international affairs, defended the controversial deal as "very strong" and, in a preview of Biden's message, said that China must now also undertake reforms.

Biden will tell China that its yuan remains "substantially undervalued" and urge the second largest economy to move from manufacturing inexpensive exports to encouraging its own growing middle class to consume, she said.

"Chinese policymakers know that they can no longer count on the US consumer to provide that demand to the global economy," Brainard told reporters on a conference call.

"They've got tremendous capacity to help bolster global growth by switching to a domestic demand-led growth strategy."

Brainard insisted that the United States remained "the most flexible, the most innovative" economy and called the debt deal "a major step" in putting US finances in order.

Xi's views remain a mystery in Washington.

Bonnie Glaser, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the 58-year-old came from a new generation that was more accustomed to the outside world yet also more nationalistic.

She said much of Washington's knowledge of Xi has come through interlocutors such as Australia's Mandarin-speaking Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and Singapore's elder statesmen Lee Kuan Yew.

But Glaser expected Xi to reveal little of his thinking during Biden's visit, as he will be exceptionally cautious before taking power.

"We may get glimpses into his thinking, but even those people who are close to him in China are not clear about where he stands on very controversial, sensitive topics such as political reform," Glaser said.

The White House insisted that Biden would not shy away from human rights.

Activists say that China is holding numerous prisoners for political reasons, including Nobel Prize-winning writer Liu Xiaobo, and has stepped up its controls on perceived dissent.

"The protection of human rights globally is a central part of President Obama's foreign policy in China, as it is elsewhere," said Danny Russell, the senior White House adviser on Asia.

"As we do consistently, we will raise our concerns about the human rights situation throughout China," he said.

Xi visited Tibet last month and vowed to crush "separatist activities" by the region's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

His address came one day after Obama received the Dalai Lama, who is widely respected around the world and says he is not seeking independence.

Russell said that Biden would not bring up arms sales to Taiwan, although he expected Beijing to raise the issue.

US law requires the administration to provide Taiwan with means of self-defense; under longstanding policy, the United States does not consult China beforehand.

US magazine Defense News reported Sunday that the Obama administration has rejected Taiwan's request for advanced F-16 fighter-jets, which the island believes it needs to balance China's rising military edge.

Administration officials said they have not made a decision.

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China's premier-in-waiting arrives in Hong Kong
Hong Kong (AFP) Aug 16, 2011 - China's Vice Premier Li Keqiang arrived in Hong Kong Tuesday as he looks to showcase himself ahead of a key leadership reshuffle in Beijing next year, and soothe tense relations with city officials.

Li, the expected successor to Premier Wen Jiabao as head of China's day-to-day administration, is making a three-day visit to Hong Kong and plans to speak about economic ties with the semi-autonomous territory.

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Donald Tsang led the dignitaries greeting Li at the airport, where the 56-year-old vice premier said he would announce new measures to boost Hong Kong's profile as a trade and finance hub.

The visit "shows the central government's concern and support for Hong Kong's development", Li told reporters, adding that "I hope to see more and listen more to deepen my understanding of Hong Kong."

Unofficially, Li is aiming to boost his own profile as Wen's term draws to a close in 2013, giving him "a precious opportunity to demonstrate his worth", said Willy Lam, a history professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong.

"(The trip) tells us about the political jockeying going on in Beijing ahead of next year's once-in-a-decade leadership change," Lam told AFP.

"Li has been cautious to a fault over the past few years and for good reason -- his power is not secure," he added.

But only the most senior Chinese politicians make official visits to Hong Kong -- a former British colony returned to China in 1997 -- so the trip all but guarantees that Li will be China's next premier, Lam said.

Li's high-powered delegation includes Commerce Minister Chen Deming, People's Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan and National Development and Reform Commission chairman Zhang Ping.

The visit comes amid strained relations with Hong Kong, despite increasing economic integration which has seen the city become a test bed for Beijing's bid to turn the yuan into a global currency to rival the US dollar.

Tensions flared last month when Wang Guangya, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the Chinese State Council, or cabinet, said local officials' colonial-era roots meant they "don't know how to be a boss".

Hong Kong maintains its own political and legal system under the "one country, two systems" model, and guarantees civil liberties not seen on the mainland.

Li will try to "endear himself to Hong Kong" and underscore that Beijing's hands-off policy toward the territory remains unchanged, Lam said.

He added that Li would likely avoid commenting on calls for political reform in the territory after the violent unrest that has spread across the Middle East.

The senior Chinese official had no plans for an official meeting with city lawmakers, unlike US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a recent visit.

"They have always avoided direct contact with legislators," said prominent lawmaker Albert Ho, chairman of the Democratic Party.

"(Chinese officials) are not used to having dialogue with people of different political persuasions," he added.

Hong Kong's government faces rising public anger over soaring property prices, while several protests have called on Beijing to speed up promised political reforms, including direct elections for the territory's leader.

Small protests were expected during Li's visit, with activists calling for the release of political detainees and more information about a recent high-speed train crash in eastern China that killed at least 40 people.

Li, a former Communist Party chief in the northeastern industrial province of Liaoning, was China's youngest provincial governor, taking charge of the central province of Henan at the age of 43.

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How e-mail helped Yeltsin outfox 1991 coup plot
Moscow (AFP) Aug 16, 2011
Boris Yeltsin never suspected how a precursor to the Internet helped him foil the August 1991 coup and bring down the USSR until he bumped into a blinking computer and noticed something called e-mail. A quick presentation by a starry-eyed woman who worked on the Soviet Union's maiden computer communications programme left Russia's first president stunned. For Yeltsin was peering at an el ... read more

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