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Witnessing the birth of a superpower


Day by imperceptible day, China creeps into our lives. Several months ago, I was seated next to Lou Gerstner, former chief executive of IBM, at a breakfast speech in Toronto. He told me a lovely story about a dinner he attended some years ago at the home of former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger. The guest of honour was a senior member of the Chinese government. "Tell me," the host challenged, "when will China cease being a developing country and become a developed one?" Without missing a beat, the guest replied that according to the government's plan, that threshold would be crossed in 2050.

China is running ahead of plan. As you will read in these pages today, its long march to prosperity is remarkable in its scope and historic in its significance.

Make no mistake about it: China is rising. Nothing will so define the world of tomorrow as how this nation of 1.3 billion expresses its ambition. Li Zhaoxing, the country's Foreign Minister, told The Globe and Mail's Geoffrey York this week that the Chinese government is encouraging state enterprises to invest in Canada, particularly in the natural-resources sector. The proposed purchase of mining giant Noranda is not a singular event, but part of a much larger process -- one that is already sparking debate in Canada.

Today's Globe and Mail, in the largest single undertaking in our history, reflects our own ambition. Three dozen Globe journalists toiled over several months to put together a comprehensive and readable portrait of contemporary China. Ten of them crisscrossed the Middle Kingdom for weeks, taking the pulse of people at every level of society. They take you inside Chinese factories and families, skyscrapers and shantytowns, concert halls, car lots and courtrooms.

More can be found on photo galleries of Chinese life, audio clips of our reporters, a look back on our coverage over the years, and a quiz.

Our attention to the rise of China is no passing fad. We've operated a bureau there since 1959, the longest stretch of any Western newspaper. The story keeps getting bigger, and so does our ambition to tell it.

Alas, I will miss tonight's Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner in Ottawa, and thus be unable to inquire as to why an upright guy like the National Post's 'Holy' Don Martin is squiring around Reg Alcock, the Liberal Party's Manitoba pork-barrel king. In some ways, the dinner is like a high-school prom, sans acne cream. Who you take is a source of fierce competition. The belle of the ball this year is rookie Conservative MP Belinda Stronach. Many asked, but only one will accompany her: Globe political correspondent Brian Laghi.

Which goes to show that Ms. Stronach possesses a political nose after all. Brian, a crackerjack reporter who led the country in breaking news about the recent health accord, takes on new responsibilities on Monday as The Globe's parliamentary bureau chief. He's the guy to watch in a town that obsesses over every adjective and twitches at each verb.

We wish Brian well with his new duties, as we do his predecessor, Drew Fagan, who has decided to leave the world of journalism for his other childhood dream job, that of a diplomat working for the Department of Foreign Affairs.

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