It is unlikely, of course, that China could or would want to try to match US influence worldwide. It does not have a mobile military that could project forces far beyond its borders, and its core interests are still regional and territorial, including the question of Taiwan.
Beijing is still recovering from the embarrassment it caused itself by its initial mismanagement of the outbreak of SARS. Its cover-up of the disease in its early stages highlighted the fact that China's political system is still closed and reflexively wary of the outside world.
Still, the North Korea crisis may have brought an end to China's complacent foreign policy. Chinese experts say Beijing began accepting in the spring US intelligence that the North had already developed one or two atomic bombs. Chinese officials also worried that the Bush administration, emboldened by a military victory in Iraq, was weighing the use of force on the Korean Peninsula, where China fought a war 50 years ago.
"The situation became an urgent crisis that the top leadership decided to handle personally," said Shi Yin-hong, a foreign policy expert at People's University in Beijing.