In addressing the question of how China's rapid socioeconomic transformation is changing the nature of its international engagement we need to move beyond a traditional focus on state-centric analysis. Obviously a major stimulus for China's international engagement over the past 25 years of reform and opening has come from non-state economic activity. Growing economic interdependence, accelerated after China's accession into the World Trade Organization, provides the strongest argument in favour of a peaceful rise of China scenario in which both regional and global security are enhanced rather than threatened. Far less attention, however, has been given to the role and influence of Chinese non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and their transnational linkages. I argue in this article that in order to obtain a more comprehensive picture of China's ongoing process of reform and opening to the outside world we need to incorporate a civil society dimension into our analysis. This is of particular relevance to ongoing foreign policy debates over democracy and human rights promotion in China. Indeed, in the absence of a more detailed understanding of current developments taking place at the grassroots, international support for progressive reform runs the risk of undermining positive change from below.