So China -- and let's be real, pretty much because of events since 1979 -- is a pretty interesting country/civilization. We should talk about it!
China in the international system
So China decided to reword its course of action since the Reform Era from "peaceful rise" to "peaceful development," which kind of hints at the level of attention they're paying to messaging and posture. IR theorists will tell you that the transitional period from a unipolar hegemonic system to a multipolar (or a system of many small poles + one big pole, as Fareed Zakaria puts it) one has traditionally been a very dangerous and volatile time. The possibility of Great Power confrontation seems on the surface to be inevitable -- given things like China's posture on the South China Sea, on natural resources in Africa and South America, and on Taiwan and Tibet -- but lots of IR scholars feel it's just as likely that China will be inducted into the Western liberal order just like everyone else. They feel that the post-WWII Western order is strong enough -- based on its multilateralism, its inclusive liberal values, and on its strict regime of rules -- that it can basically will China into submission. China's induction into the WTO would be evidence of the success of this approach.
So this is probably the major reason most people pay attention to China these days -- though to be fair, three decades of roughly 10% average growth (even if it is "just catch-up growth") is pretty impressive. In fact, iirc, it's the greatest period of sustained economic growth in history.
The problem, though, is the "sustained" part. China is already running into problems with inflation and rising labor costs, and has readjusted their growth target for next year to a "meager" 7.5%
. Coupled with increased productivity in U.S. manufacturing (thanks largely to automation improvements), outsourcing low-end manufacturing to China isn't the no-brainer it used to be. The problem for China isn't simply a couple of points lost on GDP, though; their problem is that the Chinese population isn't readjusting its expectations. When a sizable number of young Chinese men (due to the results of a couple of decades of their One Child Policy) find out there are no jobs for them, they may not be altogether happy about it, and if events since January of 2010 have shown us anything, it's that large groups of young men with no jobs and poor prospects can be a major force for change, even (and perhaps especially) in authoritarian contexts.
There's a lot more... but it's early in the morning, and I feel like this is enough to get the Conversation Ball™ rolling.