China cleans up image in preparation for Olympics

The United States believes China is playing a more positive global role.

.BEIJING (AP) – China is reaching out for a greater role in global affairs and opening up at home, too – at least a little – as the once-reclusive Communist giant gets ready for this summer’s Olympic Games.

That’s good news, says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Whatever the motivation for the change, the Bush administration sees China adopting what it thinks are more responsible positions, from North Korea to Sudan and elsewhere, moving from isolation to engagement. China is going to great lengths to burnish its image as the Olympics bring worldwide scrutiny to the country, though Rice didn’t draw a direct connection in remarks here Tuesday.

“I can’t get into their motivations, but … China is opening up to the world in a lot of ways,” Rice said after talks with President Hu Jintao and other Chinese leaders.

“I do believe that there is more of an effort to reconcile China’s size and influence in international politics, which is a relatively new thing, with China’s foreign policy behavior,” she told reporters.

While still averse to the kind of high-profile interventions that Western countries and human rights groups are known for, China has recently begun to weigh in on issues it has long avoided for fear of opening itself up to criticism for its own well-documented lapses.

“There is a broadening, I think, in general of China’s view of itself in international politics and I think we’re benefiting from it,” Rice said.

U.S.-China ties have been strained on numerous occasions since the countries established diplomatic relations in 1979.

The two nuclear powers have massive militaries and often spar over Taiwan. Perhaps their biggest fallout came after China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, which led to years of recriminations.

The Olympics are widely seen as China’s biggest opportunity yet to rub away more of the stain of Tiananmen.

Rice praised China for its recent willingness to press North Korea on its nuclear program, to broach the subject of repression with Myanmar’s military rulers and to support a hybrid United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission in Sudan’s Darfur region.

“China is making an impact,” she said, recalling that only a few years ago many in Washington doubted Beijing would use its political and economic clout as a “responsible stakeholder” in international affairs.

Although she did not link the evolution to the Olympics, China is thought susceptible to outside influence now, and some advocacy groups want to use the games to push for Chinese action, notably in Darfur because of the country’s significant investments in Sudan.

And despite Beijing’s insistence that its foreign policy remains rooted in opposition to meddling in other nations’ internal affairs, it appears ready to open itself up for human rights scrutiny, albeit within limits.