For most of the past 35 years, China's policymakers have set their focus on the domestic economy, with reforms designed to allow the market to provide efficiency and accurate price signals. Though they had to be increasingly aware of their country's growing impact on the global economy, they had no strategy to ensure that China's neighbors gained from its economic transformation. But now China does have such a strategy, or at least is rapidly developing one. Moreover, it extends well beyond Asia, embracing Eastern Europe and the east coast of Africa.

A key element of China's strategy is the recently established Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and to some extent the BRICS' New Development Bank, established last year by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Both banks are obvious alternatives — and so rivals — to the Western-dominated World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Also vital to the new strategy are two prospective modern-day silk roads: an overland route through Central Asia to the Black Sea and a "Maritime Silk Road" by which shipping will pass from the South China Sea, through the Strait of Malacca, across the Indian Ocean to East Africa, and from there through the Red Sea into the eastern Mediterranean.