How to Be a Real Superpower

China has enjoyed peace, stability and free trade. It should also help produce them

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Illustration by Oliver Munday for TIME

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China might well view this as the start of a containment policy. It's not. But the Chinese authorities should reflect on the changing attitudes toward their country, from businessmen in the U.S. to peasants in Africa to diplomats in Australia. People are waking up to China's enormous impact on the world, and that leads to very close scrutiny of everything China does--and does not do. Beijing is being held to a higher standard, a superpower standard. This is the way the world has looked at the U.S. for decades. Welcome to the club.

What's worrisome is that China seems content to act narrowly and exclusively in its own interests, unconcerned about helping maintain global rules. It is happy to consume peace, stability and free trade while doing little to produce any of these public goods. When it does try to project values, its actions seem even more worrying. Consider the awarding of the Confucius Peace Prize, China's version of the Nobel Peace Prize, to Vladimir Putin on Nov. 13. Does Beijing seriously think this will help its image?

We often hear calls in the U.S. for Washington to forge a new China policy. Doubtless we could do better, but the country that really needs a new China policy is China. Beijing needs to understand its new position in the world and act in ways commensurate with its power. Otherwise, Romney's statements will be the first of many, and they will come from places far beyond the U.S.

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