The past two or three years have marked a new moment in the global perception of China. There is suddenly a new awareness that encompasses both a recognition of China's economic transformation and an understanding that, because of its huge size and cohesive character, it will have a profound impact on the rest of the world, albeit in ways still only dimly understood.
Until recently, China's economic rise always seemed to be qualified by the rider that something was likely to go amiss -- a rider that is now rarely heard.
China has arrived and will increasingly shape our future, not just its own.
A number of factors lie behind this new global perception of China: its continuing staggering growth; the recognition that China is a major factor in the rise in oil prices; the fact that Chinese oil majors have become players in countries such as Sudan and Iran; the (unsuccessful) attempt to take over the US oil company Unilocal; the recognition that Chinese companies will increasingly become global players (of which Chinese involvement in Rover is a foretaste); the almost universal dawning that Chinese production is driving down the prices of footwear and clothing, and Western fears for domestic textile industries; and the Pentagon report earlier this year warning that Chinese military expenditure will grow significantly, and that it might be driven by energy concerns and expansionary desires.
Recognition of the new reality is provoking an intense debate among national policy elites, including China's.
How should countries respond to China's new position and power -- and how should China use it?
These are questions that more or less everywhere -- except perhaps Japan -- are still in the melting pot, not least in the US.
Over the next decade, perhaps rather less, positions will begin to be struck that will have huge consequences for the world. But we can already list the ways in which this new perception of China's rise has served to change the nature of the debate about China itself and about the shape of the global future.
In the 1990s, the process of globalization was overwhelmingly seen as a process of Westernization. That hubris has receded in the wake of China's rise. There are few who believe that China's modernization will simply result in a Western-style state. On the contrary, there is an implicit recognition that China will be a very different kind of nation in almost every respect. Moreover, it would appear that China has been as much a beneficiary of globalization as the US, perhaps more so.
A widespread belief that the 21st century would be an American century found even clearer expression in the aftermath of Sept. 11, with the pursuit of the neoconservative project.
However, as doubts grow about the US' enterprise in Iraq, and more widely in the Middle East, there is a recognition that China is now a serious candidate to assume the role of "the other superpower." It is projected that China will overtake the US in terms of GDP purchasing power parity before 2020.
The American century could turn out to be more like a half- century.
There is a growing understanding that the future is unlikely to be dominated by the Western world in the manner of the past two centuries. The major reason for this shift in perception is the rise of China and, to a lesser extent, India -- which together account for well over a third of the world's population.