The world has high expectations for China. Economic might is equated globally with responsibility; the more the nation develops and catches up with the US, the more it will be counted on to help resolve regional and international problems. This is unfamiliar territory for Beijing and it will need time to adapt to the changed circumstances. President Xi Jinping's increasingly assertive foreign policy is moving in the right direction, although a better job has to be done of explaining the Chinese position on a number of issues.
China's new standing has been evident since Xi took the presidency in March. A series of high-profile overseas trips and meetings with state leaders has revealed a confidence deserving of the world's second-biggest economy. There was every sense of equality when the president met his US counterpart, Barack Obama, in California earlier this month. But there was no more visible show of the changed approach than when Xi met UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Beijing last week. He called on the world body to adhere to fairness and justice, uphold peace and development and play a bigger role in promoting co-operation and common prosperity.
Such forthrightness is not what we have come to expect from China. Late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping's belief in a low profile and biding of time while the economy developed has been the guiding principle of foreign policy. But Xi has recognised that the time has come for the nation to step forward and meet its obligations. Beyond being a permanent member of the UN Security Council, two areas where it can make a lasting impact are on North Korea's nuclear weapons proliferation and helping find peace in the Middle East.
It has been making the right noises. There has already been a pledge to make a greater effort to bring Israelis and Palestinians together. Senior Chinese and North Korean ministers met in Beijing last week to try to mend strained ties, a prerequisite if long-stalled nuclear talks are to be put back on track. A three-day visit by Vietnam's President Truong Tan Sang also gave the opportunity to discuss common concerns, contested territory in the South China Sea being the most challenging.
China needs a confident foreign policy. Xi's greater assertiveness is good. But in keeping with other nations' concerns about the nation's rise, equal effort has to go into explaining positions and decisions. That way, the world will work with and embrace Beijing, not doubt its motives.