China's president, Hu Jintao, is scheduled to attend a conference Saturday connected to the G8 meeting in Evian, France. The visit is an important step for China. The stop in Evian is part of the new Chinese president's first overseas outing, and it is the first-ever direct involvement by a Chinese president in events surrounding the G8.

China has turned down past invitations to attend G8 events, but this year's invitation from France comes at a time when both countries have expressed strong support for a multi-polar power structure in the world.

China will not be part of the G8 summit itself, but will attend a pre-summit meeting on Saturday, along with leaders from Brazil, India, Mexico, and South Africa. Jean-Pierre Cabestan is the director of the French Center for Research on Contemporary China. He calls China's inclusion a "diplomatic nicety." "The whole issue would be about China's participation in the real G8 meeting, and the transformation of the G8 into a G9," he said.

The G8 is not a formal institution and it does not enforce policies. Its members, however, exert control over most international capital via the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

China is the only permanent member of the United Nations' security council that is not part of the G8. Yet, it was recently admitted to the World Trade Organization, and exports about $325 billion worth of goods per year.

China's pre-summit participation is reminiscent of Russia's guest role in the G7 in the mid-1990s.

But Mr. Cabestan points out a crucial difference. "Although Russian democracy is not perfect, it's a pluralistic democracy," he noted. "And that's not the case with China. So, some countries are going to object to China's participation in the full G8 meeting."

China's one-party, communist system is still grappling with the requirements it must fulfill under its World Trade Organization agreement. Economists say it will take some time before Beijing can truly live up to the G8's doctrine of "liberalization, stabilization, and privatization."

In the meantime, as China tries to conform to the rules of globalization, the G8 will continue to dictate those rules, even if only informally. But Saturday's meeting is likely to prove useful to participants in several ways.

For China, involvement in another international organization enhances its prestige and influence. For G8 members, it is another link to a country experts say can no longer be bypassed when it comes to international affairs.