The financial crisis has taught the rich nations that the world is no longer their private club. The meltdown started in the west and was fuelled by an extreme free-market ideology. But emerging economies have learned that, however virtuous and blameless they think they are, their own houses are catching fire. In a globalised economy, no man is an island - hence the talk about the need for a new multilateralism and for reform of the global financial architecture. The two-day summit of European and Asian leaders, which ended yesterday in Beijing, is part of this evolving global consensus. The economic meltdown has presented a challenge, but also an opportunity for emerging powers such as China to seek more influence by helping to reshape the global financial system long dominated by the west. Therefore, besides focusing on the immediate threat, they need to think longer term. When Washington, London and Brussels talk about the need for a more inclusive global financial structure, they still assume they will rewrite the rules for emerging economies to follow. This needs to change. Developing countries should contribute their own ideas and agendas. As the pre-eminent emerging power, China should seize this historic opportunity. Besides playing the ceremonial host this weekend, it has been asked to take on greater international responsibility. China and Japan will put up most of the US$80 billion for a reserve fund to help cope with the meltdown, to which Asian leaders recommitted themselves at the summit. Crucially, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has sought Beijing's support for plans to redraw international financial regulations and restructure multilateral institutions. World leaders will gather in Washington next month after the US presidential election for a global financial summit called by outgoing US president George W. Bush. The reform agenda of Mr Sarkozy, who currently holds the rotating European Union presidency, will be discussed there. In response, Premier Wen Jiabao said the world's reaction to the financial crisis had not been sufficient and promised that China would play 'an active role' in November's summit, though he has not spelled out details. Beijing recognises its priority must be to shield the mainland economy from the global meltdown. To do so, it needs to work more with the major economies. With a US$1.9 trillion reserve and a huge trade surplus, China is in a better position than most to withstand the financial crisis. And Beijing must realise that helping to make the western-dominated global system more equitable for emerging economies is in its own interests. For too long, China has built up the greatest stake in the global economy yet has had little influence in the multinational institutions that underpin it. For example, despite repeated voting reforms within the International Monetary Fund, China still has only 3.66 per cent of the votes, compared with 4.86 per cent for Britain and 16.77 per cent for the US. This is one of the areas ripe for reform that China and other emerging powers need to seize on. The nation is at a crossroads. It must decide whether it will continue focusing on its own economic development and committing to cheque-book diplomacy or whether it has the courage, ideas and creativity to seize the moment and stake a claim to a bigger role in world leadership. Playing such a role and exercising power through revamped multinational institutions is something foreign to China and to most other Asian countries. But Beijing has long expressed a wish to be respected as an equal member of the international community. Now is the time to seize that opportunity and create a fairer global system.