When the Olympics begin Friday in Beijing it will be a "coming out" party of sorts for China.
Beijing hopes this will be a bright spot in what has otherwise been a tough year -- the country was hit by a devastating earthquake and rocked by scandals over tainted food and medicine and toxic toys.
There have been protests, both within China and in other countries, about its human rights policies in Tibet and Darfur.
Even the Olympic torch relay, normally a celebratory event, sparked demonstrations around the world.
Now billions of eyes will be focused on a nation that has become so important to so many, yet remains misunderstood. Many people, perhaps most vocally in the United States, fear China's growing power and influence around the world. But it is unavoidable.
"The rise of China is the single most important geopolitical event of the 21st century," said John Thornton, professor and director of Global Leadership at Tsingua University in Beijing. "And the implications of that rise are enormous."
After 300 years of relative isolation, China has decided an integral factor in its success will be its strategic relationships around the world.
Beijing now sees any country as a potential ally, and almost no country is disqualified for bad behavior -- except those that support total independence for Taiwan.
The bottom line for countries like Angola, Brazil, Cambodia and countless others where Beijing has invested is that China is there to support its own growing economy -- not to get involved in local politics.
The Chinese are working to expand their influence around the world for one reason: to make it possible for more and more of their people to live like Americans do.
In country after country around the world, the story is the same: What China is doing, America is not.
Angola, for example, is one of the fastest growing oil producers in the world, but remains a strikingly poor country, still struggling to recover from a 30-year civil war that left more than 1 million people dead before the shooting finally stopped in 2002.
"By the end of the civil war, Angola was just an absolute disaster," said Alec Russell, Johannesburg bureau chief of the Financial Times. "The country was on its knees."
Russell said Angola expected Western nations to step in and help it rebuild, but no such aid materialized.
Instead, it was the Chinese who came forward with the most appealing offer: $2 billion in loans, with very few strings attached. In exchange, China now receives 10,000 barrels of Angolan oil daily.
Now, thanks to Beijing's massive loans, conditions in Angola are improving, while China satisfies its ever-expanding need for oil. And Angola is just one example of how China's new approach is giving it increased access in more and more nations.
Today, China has established meaningful economic relationships with 48 of the 53 countries in Africa.
"Many Western countries have been in Africa for centuries, but little has been done for the infrastructure development," said Li Ruogu, chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank of China. "It is really the failure of Western countries."
The daily habits of the more than 1.3 billion people of China have changed dramatically over the last decade, and those habits are now taking a serious toll on the country's resources.