(Reuters) - China's engagement with the United Nations is on the rise as its economic power grows, but the West should be cautious with calls for it to act as a responsible world leader, as Beijing's goals may not be the same as the West's, said a new report on Friday.
Beijing is wielding greater influence at the United Nations, especially in the Security Council, but its pluralist foreign policy means its remains defensive, continues to protect pariah states Iran and North Korea, and defines its interests narrowly.
"China is sending higher-caliber diplomats to New York and providing increasingly robust support to U.N. peacekeeping operations," said author Michael Fullilove, Director Global Issues at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney.
"China is increasingly willing to take the lead on issues and behave more like a normal great power," said Fullilove, but adds: "On the Security Council, China's new confidence sits along strains of caution and defensiveness."
The report said the world climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009 reflected China's desire to balance its self-interests with its aspirations as a world player.
China, which accounts for 24 percent of global CO2 emissions, opposed a commitment for rich nations to cut emissions by 80 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels and for Copenhagen to be a stage toward a legally binding treaty.
"The Chinese leadership remains overwhelmingly focused on domestic issues. One Chinese interviewee told the author: 'Beijing is not psychologically ready to be an active global player," wrote Fullilove.
But China's foreign policy is changing, even toward its historic support for pariah states.
"Concerned at the fragility of some of the regimes it supports and conscious of its international reputation, China has begun to condition its support in some cases," said Fullilove.
China is being pushed by Washington to bring North Korea to heel after last week's artillery attack on the South, but Beijing refuses to blame Pyongyang for the shelling which destroyed dozens of houses and killed four people, or for the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel in March.
Beijing's frustration with Pyongyang has resulted in a reported public debate in Beijing, with traditionalist favoring support and strategists arguing growing economic ties with South Koreawarrants support for Seoul, said the report.
"Beijing needs to strike a new balance between its traditional economic and security concerns and the broader imperatives it must now satisfy, including stable great-power relations, non-proliferation and the development of international prestige," said Fullilove.
"On the other hand, the West needs to be careful what it wishes for. Washington and Canberra want Beijing to be more responsible and active, but they don't like it when Beijing is more assertive. China's version of stepping up is not necessarily the same as the West's."
(Reporting by Michael Perry; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)