From Tom Barnett's article "Ten Reasons Why China Matters To You" in Good magazine: Reason # 10: Because Nixon went to China and your world was born:
When President Richard Nixon reopened diplomatic ties with Mao Zedong’s communist China in 1972, he enabled the most profound global economic dynamic of the last half century: China’s historic reemergence as a worldwide market force. Nothing shapes your world today more than China’s rise, and nothing will shape our planet’s future more—for good or ill—than China’s ongoing trajectory.
After centuries of relative isolation, China’s rapid reintegration into the global economy transformed globalization from its narrow Cold War-era base (the West) to its current “majority” status, whereby two-thirds of humanity now enjoys deep and growing connectivity with international markets and the remaining third works toward it. China’s decision to rejoin the world was globalization’s tipping point, meaning—absent global war—there’s no turning back now, only adaptation.
If Nixon opened the door, then Mao’s successor Deng Xiaoping led the Chinese people through it. Unlike Mikhail Gorbachev, Deng chose wisely: By tackling economic freedom before political liberalization, Deng kept China stable during its tenuous first years of market reform. Although Deng is correctly labeled an autocrat (he ordered the bloody suppression of the Tiananmen Square democracy protests in 1989), he is also correctly identified as a modernizer who unleashed a generation’s immense creativity.
Many from that generation will tell you that, before Tiananmen, they felt freedom was “90 percent political and 10 percent economic,” but after Deng’s crackdown, they concluded—somewhat harshly—that real freedom was “90 percent economic and 10 percent political.” In other words, they decided that markets were the first, best instruments for generating positive change in China.
A grand bargain was struck: Deng won military support for further market reforms so long as a lid was kept on political change, and the army was afforded enough of a budget to modernize. The Party would remain supreme, but state involvement in the economy would shrink and private business would be encouraged along with investment from, and trade with, the outside world.
China has experienced incredible economic growth ever since, increasing its gross domestic product annually by almost 10 percent—as fast as you dare expand. But China is also nowhere near becoming a democracy, and its achievement scares nations around the world—and excites others—because it suggests that you can rapidly embrace globalization, achieve great income growth, and remain a single-party state by following the so-called China model.