Over the years, as China has turned into the world's second-largest economy and largest trading nation, it has often been reluctant to assume the responsibilities of a great power, preferring to focus on its own development while letting the US carry the main burden of dealing with international crises.
However, in at least one respect, it is acting like a superpower. Its reaction to the loss of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 shows it will go to great lengths to look after the welfare of its citizens around the globe, no matter where they are.
To determine the whereabouts of the missing plane, which was carrying 239 people, of whom 154 were from China, Beijing has deployed tremendous resources, including 21 satellites and more than a dozen ships, while its planes have flown numerous sorties on search and rescue missions.
Chinese officials have said that "as long as there is a glimmer of hope", they will continue their efforts.
China's opening up 35 years ago has resulted in Chinese now travelling all over the world to work, to look for business opportunities or simply to sightsee. Inevitably, this has exposed them to danger and the Chinese government has now assumed the formidable task of protecting its citizens and looking after their interests.
Three years ago, during the Libya crisis, China successfully evacuated 36,000 of its nationals from the country in a smooth operation conducted with military precision.
More often, however, the government is called upon to help individuals in danger. Last week, for example, a 29-year-old woman from Shanghai, Gao Huayun, was kidnapped along with a hotel employee in a seemingly peaceful scuba diving resort in Sabah, reportedly by Philippine gunmen.
According to the Chinese foreign ministry, its consulate general in Kuching "immediately activated the emergency response mechanism, sent staff to the scene and asked local police to go all out for rescue while ensuring the safety of the Chinese citizen and take effective measures to protect Chinese tourists there".
The effort to protect Chinese around the world has also extended to ensuring that the remains of some of those who died abroad are returned home, like falling leaves returning to the roots of a tree, as the Chinese saying goes.
Last month, the remains of 437 Chinese soldiers killed during the Korean war were returned by South Korea to China, more than 60 years after the war ended. The remains were escorted to Shenyang by a guard of honour and each casket was draped with the Chinese flag.
This is very much in line with the American practice of seeking out and returning remains of soldiers killed in wars overseas.
In safeguarding the interests of Chinese citizens around the world, China is behaving like a responsible superpower. Next, it needs to protect the rights of all individuals within the country, which of course is even more important.