China is arguably in the best economic shape of any country in the world today. Chinese consumers have upped their purchases, and the government is furiously building infrastructure and using stimulus money to retrain companies. Indeed, in just the past six months Chinese companies have embarked on a global acquisition spree, attempting to buy up mining giant Rio Tinto, and locking up oil and gas supplies from Brazil, Iran and Russia, among other countries.
With its economy flourishing, Beijing, long shy of making its presence felt internationally, now is striding onto the global stage. In fact, in some regions, like Southeast Asia, China already may have surpassed the influence of the United States, the traditional foreign power. In many other parts of the world, too, China now promotes a model of economic development that, for the first time, poses a real challenge to the free market, democratic Washington Consensus.
Only a decade ago, China was content to play but a slight role in international affairs. It wielded little influence at the United Nations, and paid limited attention to regions, like Africa and Latin America, far from its borders. Chinese companies had almost no international presence; asked to name one Chinese firm, most Western consumers or executives would have drawn a blank. This was not an accident: Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China's economic reforms, launched in the late 1970s, told his colleagues that Beijing should take a low profile in global policy.