When the Nobel committee selected Liu Xiaobo as the winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, the distinction brought unwanted attention to China. For obvious reasons, Beijing did not want the world honoring a man who has dedicated decades to challenging the country's political system. But Beijing, in fact, seems uncomfortable with any kind of attention. Earlier this year, when the Chinese economy overtook Japan's to become the second-largest in the world, Chinese officials seemed determined to downplay what is by any measure an impressive achievement, declaring that the rising Chinese powerhouse remains "a developing country."
To be sure, China has a long way to go before its average citizen enjoys living standards resembling those in Europe or the U.S. There is no doubt, however, that China has been growing at a dazzling pace. With the country's rate of growth far surpassing the rest of the world, Beijing is accumulating not only cash and armaments, but also growing global influence and power.
Chinese officials go out of their way to reassure the world that their goal is only "peaceful development," but some observers wonder whether regional dominance and global power are not also part of the plan. American military strategists, according to a recent Pentagon report (.pdf), worry that China's ongoing military buildup could give Beijing the option of "using military force to gain diplomatic advantage or resolve disputes in its favor." And China's neighbors worry about what is now a growing power soon becoming a regional hegemon.