When President Hu Jintao of China shakes hands with President George Bush in Washington tomorrow and gives one of his fixed grins for photographers, it will not be just another eeting between the leader of a large developing country and the chief executive of the richest nation on earth.
China is rising fast and is expected to eclipse the United States economically in the future - its gross domestic product is tipped to overtake that of America by 2045.
While Mr Bush has only given Mr u an hour of his time for a state lunch, the global balance of power is changing and in future meetings, the Chinese will set the timetable.
The rise of China is posing awkward questions for the US, along with the realisation that its days as the world's economic superpower are numbered.
Some analysts see America entering a period of "managed decline" not unlike that which Britain has experienced since the end of the Second World War and the end of empire.
Since the Chinese economy began to open up a quarter of a century ago, there are 400 million fewer desperately poor people in China. Now Beijing wants the remarkable domestic growth story to count for something in global terms. China has already overtaken Britain and France to become the world's fourth largest economy and Mr Hu's visit to Washington represents a culture clash on a global scale. China, the emerging Asian superpower, is ruled with an iron fist by the Communist Party which has transformed a once centrally planned economy into a free market one, "socialist with Chinese characteristics".
What China repeatedly calls its "peaceful rise" represents a major challenge for the US economy, for its political position and for its role as global policeman.
China, with its endless supply of goods and its thirst for energy, has contributed more to global growth than America in recent years, and Beijing is well aware of this. Mr Hu's visit to America is about boosting China's prestige, earning respect for the world's fastest-growing major economy and matching some of that financial muscle with real political influence.
Japan remains the engine of the Asian economy but it is not registering anything like the double-digit growth rates that China is seeing every year.
What makes the rise of China different from Japan's post-war emergence is that China can match its economic growth with a strong army. China is no defeated nation, struggling out of the ashes, instead it is a proud country which likes to remind others of its cultural achievements over thousands of years.
More than half of all industrial goods are made in its factories. The production and export of these goods, their prices kept low by Beijing's manipulation of the renminbi currency, has generated the cash behind China's growing economic power.
Mr Hu was all business at the start of his tour. Dinner at Bill Gates' house in Seattle, followed by a caf latte with Howard Schultz, chairman of the Starbucks chain of coffee shops, then on to the Boeing plant, before moving to the east coast, with an itinerary that includes a speech at Mr Bush's alma mater, Yale.
But this businesslike opening has been undermined before Mr Hu even arrives in Washington DC. The Chinese leader isbeing given full military honours on arrival but Mr Hu's journey is not being labelled an official "state visit" as such, but something further down the chain.
Face matters in Asia, respect is a serious business and …