Nearly two centuries ago, Napoleon advised his fellow Europeans, "Let China sleep. When it wakens, it will shake the world".
The Chinese believe that, for most of recorded history, China was not just the most populous but also the most prosperous, technologically most advanced, most powerful, and arguably the best governed of all human societies. The Chinese regard their eclipse by the West in what they call "the recent past" as an anomaly that time and hard work will correct. Most Chinese now believe that, in the century to come, their nation is destined to resume its natural place as the pre-eminent society on the planet. They may be right.
The Chinese economy is the engine that is accelerating the global shift of wealth and power to East Asia. But its growing economic weight and central position have yet to be reflected in its inclusion in global institutions and regulatory regimes. Yet, it is hard to imagine that the institutions that constitute this order can retain their leading position if an economy that is soon to become the world's largest is not fully integrated with them. Yet, the West has no apparent strategy for achieving China's integration into the multilateral institutions it hopes will regulate the post-Cold War international economic order.
Finally, China's opening to the outside world and the concomitant collapse of Chinese totalitarianism have allowed the emergence of transnational Chinese criminal gangs. Such gangs are now involved in the drug trade and the smuggling of Chinese emigrants under conditions approximating those of the 18th century African slave trade.
China lacks the legal system, including the courts, trained judges, and legal enforcement mechanisms that more developed countries can rely upon to implement effective controls over commercial behaviour.
Nevertheless, once admitted to a club, the record shows, China works hard to learn, adopt and apply the group rules.
It cannot be in the world's interest to wait to begin managing the consequences for the international state system of China's rise to wealth and power. Problems are accumulating, not diminishing. The country's bargaining position is strengthening, not weakening. China now enjoys its most cooperative relations with South-east Asia in 500 years. Its relations with Russia are the most mutually respectful in over 300 years. Its relations with Europe, including Europe's great powers, are the most satisfactory in nearly two centuries. Sino-Japanese relations are as good as they have been in a hundred years.
Contemporary China has no ideology it can explain to its own people, still less one it seeks to export to others. It has no satellites and maintains no forces beyond its borders. China's increasingly decentralised economy is the fastest growing in the world. Its defence budget could be greatly increased without putting much strain on its economy. China seeks to join the existing international order, not to overthrow it.