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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

China's influence is growing around the world and in many different areas of life. China placed a huge role in the world economy, and that's prompting it to exercise some diplomatic muscle.

So, all this week, we'll be hearing about China's expanding influence in Africa, the Mideast, South America and elsewhere.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn starts things off with this report from Beijing.

(Soundbite of promotional video)

ANTHONY KUHN: In this promotional video, an African employee sings the praises of his Chinese employers. The employer is Jacob Wood who was born Hu Jieguo in Shanghai and has spent the last 30 years building an African business empire called The Golden Gate Group. It includes hotels, restaurants, constructions and real estate firms, and has 20,000 employees - most of them Nigerians. Wood enjoys the status of an honorary Nigerian chieftain.

That came in handy last year when kidnappers seized several groups of Chinese oil workers in Nigeria. Wood used his honorary position to help negotiate for their release. He suggested that oil companies try adopting corporate responsibility.

Mr. JACOB WOOD (Chairman, The Golden Gate Group): We tried to help them. But also we tell them, you know, for next time, what they should do, right? We should do more - the community jobs. All right. Build schools, build hospitals for them, like everybody love you. Not like people feel you come here just to take oil.

KUHN: After years of attracting foreign investment, China is now investing overseas itself, prospecting for new markets and raw materials for its extensive economic growth. In the process, it is taken on new risks, responsibilities and a national interest beyond its own borders.

This is changing China's long stated policy of non-interference in other countries' affairs. Wu Jianmin remembers serving as a junior diplomat at the United Nations in 1971 when China had just retaken its sit from Taiwan.

Mr. WU JIANMIN (Former Junior Diplomat, United Nations): (Through translator) Whenever the issue of peacekeeping came up, China would either not participate or abstain. We felt that peacekeeping did not fit our idea of nations minding their own business.

(Soundbite of crowd)

KUHN: Now, Wu notes, China has 8,000 peacekeeping troops overseas including this detachment, preparing last year to deploy to Sudan. The message seems to be that it's now okay to interfere another country's affairs if you have the United Nations mandate.

Mr. WU: (Through Translator) We are a part of the existing international system. We are its beneficiaries.. The international system is evolving, and we are participating in it and constructing it.

KUHN: Analysts say China is gradually becoming more responsive to international demands to put diplomatic pressure on authoritarian regimes, such as Sudan, North Korea and Myanmar. China's special envoy on the Darfur issue, Liu Guijin, recently responded to foreign criticism that Beijing is shielding Khartoum from censure.

Mr. LIU GUIJIN (China's Special Envoy to Darfur): (Through Translator): China's basic policies on the Darfur question are not substantially different from those Western nations. We agree that the international community should speak with one voice and exert equal influence on the Sudanese government and rebel forces. Or as Western nations prefer to say it, exert pressure.

KUHN: Western governments are far from satisfied with Chinese contributions on the Darfur issue. Foreign Ministry Yang Jiechi recently said that China would shoulder more responsibility for world affairs, but he cautioned that this wasn't just to please any specific countries.

Mr. YANG JIECHI (Foreign Minister, China): (Through translator) Frankly speaking, China, as a developing country, cannot undertake a level of obligation that goes beyond its asking. I would like to emphasize that we are not taking international responsibilities to serve the interests of certain countries or a group of countries.

KUHN: Even the downplaying of its capabilities has become a part of China's foreign policy. Jin Canrong is an international relations expert at People's University in Beijing. He says that China portrays its relations with other countries as a win-win game and aspires to wield power humbly. But Jin adds that as China becomes more powerful and confident, these pledges are coming under increasing criticism.

Mr. JIN CANRONG (International Relations Expert, People's University in Beijing): (Through Translator) One direct cause for this is Taiwan's pro-independence provocations. People on the mainland think: we've been putting up with these troublemakers for too long. We ought to just whack them. There are others who say there's no point in downplaying China's capabilities when everyone knows what they are.

KUHN: China's government has quietly ditched the official term peaceful rise to describe its reemergence as a major power. Critics say that sticking to this description would limit China's options. Other skeptics point out that such a peaceful rise has no precedent in human history.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

NORRIS: Well, China's global profile has risen(ph) a clear plan for the role it wants to play is less clear. You can reach about China's challenges and overview of our series at npr.org.

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