Facets of 2009 ... a student at a job fair; Stern Hu; a salute to 60 years of communist rule. Photo: AP
BEIJING: Politically and economically, at home and abroad, for better and for worse, 2009 was the year of the rise and rise of the Chinese state. As competing powers stumbled, the competent, formidable yet insecure Communist Party reasserted China's place in the world after a 200-year interregnum.
Australia more than any other rich country was pulled along in China's slipstream. Its economic recovery stunned the world and triggered recoveries in East Asia.
By the June quarter the Communist Party, marking its 60th year in power, had marshalled its bank chiefs, local bureaucrats, corporations and even the media to force the economy to grow by an annualised 17 per cent from a standing start. Beijing leveraged its own money with 7 trillion yuan ($US1.1 trillion) of new credit in the first six months of the year. The world has never seen anything like it.
In February, officials estimated more than 20 million of the country's 140 million migrant workers had gone home early because their work had dried up. Seven months later, after the construction cranes and steel factories had roared back to life, they said the number of migrant workers had in fact swelled to 150 million - the fastest job growth in six years. That's why the Reserve Bank of Australia now discusses China rather than the United States in almost every public statement.
As rising China kept the Australian economy afloat, it was giving the Rudd Government a series of nasty diplomatic headaches. In February, Chinalco demonstrated the nation's new-found corporate power with a $US19.5 billion bid to invest in miner Rio Tinto. That controversy exploded in June when Rio walked away from the deal.
A series of revelations in March about then defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon's relationship with his landlord, Helen Liu - who had boasted of feeding information to Beijing - ended in Fitzgibbon falling on his sword, having demonstrated the complexities of Beijing's efforts to cultivate ties with the rapidly growing Chinese diaspora.
In April a Defence White Paper charted an aggressive Australian naval build-up against possible instability linked to rising China - the Chinese reaction was blistering.
In July, simmering discontent about Mr Rudd's human rights advocacy boiled over when an exiled leader of China's Uighur ethnic minority chose Australia for a lengthy speaking tour. The Chinese Government accused Rebiya Kadeer of fomenting the Xinjiang riots - China's most catastrophic in 20 years - and the media accused Australia of ''building a stage'' for a separatist leader.
The economic, ethnic, strategic and political dimensions of advancing state power intersected on July 5 at the Shanghai home of Chinese-Australian iron ore salesman, Stern Hu.
Hu was arrested as part of a national resurgence of China's State Security apparatus, which is probably due to a delicate power contest at the very top and a lack of faith in the party's grip on power.
Hu may also have been arrested because the Communist Party sometimes seeks loyalty from ethnic Chinese, regardless of citizenship, and it is increasingly willing to throw its weight around at the expense of foreign countries.
Above all, Hu was arrested because the leadership could not comprehend the scale of China's impact on the world. It seems they thought iron ore prices had been rising because Rio Tinto had rigged the market rather than because China was at that time buying 70 per cent of the world's traded iron ore.
A September peacemaking tour by Vice Premier Li Keqiang signalled a halt to the unseemly China-Australia skirmishes.
But in exploiting the opportunities in dealing with China, the challenges continue.
Rudd was a ''friend of the chair'' at the Copenhagen climate change summit at which China was alleged to have played deal-wrecker. In coming months he will be forced to respond to Hu's anticipated trial and conviction.
Anyone hoping for a more relaxed Chinese state in 2010 may be disappointed. Only this week, it sentenced a leading democracy advocate to 11 years' jail, conducted the first execution of a European in 50 years and promised that its obsession with ''state security'' will continue.
''The schemes of Western anti-China forces seeking to Westernise and split us, friction and disputes between countries, and hostile forces stirring up chaos and sabotage … remain major factors affecting our national security and social stability,'' said the Vice Minister of Public Security, Yang Huanning.