As Canada and the US got stuck in political ideology that led us to dick around with programs that are too slow and include too much non-stimulative tax cuts, the autocrats in China were able to act decisively and do exactly what needed to be done.
I can't explain why western media is all about doom and gloom for China, when the opposite seems to be the case. (viz today's Globe article predicting mass political unrest due to unemployment in China, or yesterday's pessimistic Forbes article.) I can just say that there is reason to think that they're wrong, although Chinese economic recovery is not yet a given (they spent $600B on the first stimulus shock, and if their recovery suffers a reversal they may be out of bullets).
That China is poised to lead the world in economic recovery is very significant. As one China analyst notes, "to become a superpower, you really don’t need to have a plan for world domination. You only need to be the last man standing when everyone else has already collapsed." Or more accurately, the first man back on his feet.
Although it's early days, tangible results of China's success may already be starting to show: the economically devastated Taiwan is starting to soften on relations with China; the US, which under George Bush had a policy of isolating China and strengthening ties with India, is now reaching out to China.
But more interesting than the future of superpowerdom (and in any event, as I have argued before, demographics and other factors favor the continued supremacy of the US) are the shorter term effects of China pulling out of the recession first. Increased industrial activity in China will most likely cause an increase in oil prices: the west is currently not in an inflationary period only because of low oil prices, and we could get hit hard if our belated stimulus packages kick in just as there is other inflationary pressure. I would like to think that our governments are planning for this sort of contingency, but there hasn't been much evidence of that so far... they are in reactive mode, and always seem to be reacting to circumstances six months or a year in the past.
UPDATE (October 22, 2009): Chinese economic policy was so successful that China is expected to have 9% growth this year, according to the Financial Times.