China: David or Goliath? Battle over perception

BEIJING/SOROTI: To the outside world China is a rich, monolithic superpower, but inside troubles mount and confidence remains fragile. Xu Shunjian is a diplomat. For three years he has been doing his bit to change perception of China.

He had never left Fujian province before going to Uganda, where his team is turning a remote, dusty, rutted track into a 122km road.

Now China is wide open to the world. But as its growing reach forges new alliances and better understanding, it is also creating new tensions.

From its recent naval confrontation with the US in the South China Sea, to its anger at western pressure over Tibet, Beijing appears ever more confident as its reach extends around the globe — and its rivals appear more watchful.

For years, foreign policy was guided by Deng Xiaoping’s cautious injunction, “Tao guang yang hui” (hide brightness, cherish obscurity).

There is nothing obscure about China these days; it seems its time has arrived.

Just ccan the recent headlines: Chinese workers strike in Romania; Chinese property hunters seek bargains in New York; Chinese peacekeepers patrol Darfur and Kosovo; the Chinese navy battles Somalian pirates. Premier Wen Jiabao publicly frets about the safety of its vast US treasury holdings, and President Hu Jintao took centre stage at the G20 meeting in London. Analysts begin to talk of the “G2”; Americans of “our most important bilateral relationship”.