But today there are encouraging signs that China is maturing in how it views its responsibilities as a global leader. Its political leaders have continued opening markets to foreign competition (often against the wishes of powerful local interests), while becoming a bit more vigilant about protecting intellectual property -- a major issue for foreign investors. Beijing's leadership in brokering the ongoing multilateral talks to encourage North Korea to dial back its nuclear ambitions has given China even more diplomatic legitimacy as a true power in the Asia-Pacific region. Now, Beijing's openness about bird flu takes that one step further.
To be sure, given China's famously opaque political system, it's always perilous to read too much into Beijing's shifts. And its leaders continue to curb internal political dissent. Still, China's emerging leadership in nascent world crises could have big implications for how the nation will address a range of pressing concerns, everything from its growing impact on the economies of trading partners to its long-standing dispute over the status of Taiwan. That certainly would be a positive development for China -- and for global stability.