1. Dissidents no longer matter in global diplomacy. Fact: After China joined the World Trade Organization and hosted the Beijing Olympics, the image of the impassioned, ink-stained inmate began to seem as retro as a Cold War spy swap. When the presidents of China and the U.S. convened, they could hardly be expected to have more than a ritual exchange of differing opinions on human rights before moving on to more practical matters of mutual concern. But then the Nobel Prize Committee chose Liu Xiaobo, and, instead of turning a blind eye and ignoring it, China vowed to punish Norway and advised other countries to stay away from the ceremony. Liu Xiaobo, who had been little known beforehand, became famous in China and abroad. China confronted a full-blown diplomatic crisis. (Spy swaps are back, too.)
2. No company can afford to antagonize China. Fact: Google even had a good year doing it.
3. China is parting ways with North Korea. Fact: When a leaked U.S. State Department cable suggested that Chinese diplomats were whispering about the need for change on the Korean peninsula, some in the West saw a glimmer of daylight between the “lips and teeth,” to use the unlovely old metaphor for that special relationship. But the Chinese government contains a large, variegated range of opinion, and for the moment the consensus is far more in favor of protecting Kim as a defense against a refugee crisis and a U.S. troop presence on China’s eastern border.