Chinese bullet trains operating on the Beijing-Guangzhou high-speed railway.
A senior Chinese Foreign Ministry official has hinted that Beijing may pick up the torch of global leadership if forced to do so by the withdrawal of other contenders for the role as Washington under Trump appears to become more immersed in domestic issues.
“If anyone were to say China is playing a leadership role in the world, I would say it’s not China rushing to the front but rather the frontrunners have stepped back, leaving the place to China,” Zhang Jun, the director general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s international economics department, told reporters on Monday, according to Reuters.
At the same time, he said that China would not shun the opportunity to lead the world if needed for the common good.
“If China is required to play that leadership role, then China will assume its responsibilities,” the official added.
Zhang’s comments came on the hills of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, in which he advocated the benefits of globalization and spoke on the perils of isolationism, which critics argue Washington may face if US President Donald Trump pursues his “America first” policy.
In his inauguration address, President Trump promised that on his watch Washington would not ignore the needs of ordinary Americans for the sake of foreign nations.
“We’ve defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own; and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay,” Trump said, vowing, “From this moment on, it’s going to be America first.”
This and similar statements by Trump during the election campaign, including his call for other NATO members to contribute more to defense costs, has raised concerns among those who fear the US might voluntary loosen its grip as the “leader of the free world” and resort to isolationism and protectionism.
“The countries aren’t paying their fair share, so we’re supposed to protect countries. There’s five countries that are paying what they’re supposed to. Five. It’s not much,” Trump said in a recent interview to The Times and Bild, while branding the NATO alliance “obsolete.”
In contrast, speaking at Davos, Chinese President Xi likened protectionism to “locking oneself in a dark room” with no light or air.
Xi also said that China would not use currency devaluation as a tool to gain a completive edge over other countries, thus responding to numerous claims by Donald Trump accusing Beijing of unfair competition.
Echoing Xi’s sentiment, Zhang said that a potential trade war between US and China would be detrimental to US economy and prevent Trump from achieving his ambitious goal of 4 percent growth.
“A trade war or an exchange rate war won’t be advantageous to any country,” the diplomat noted, adding that China hopes Washington and the West will make “an even bigger contribution to the world economic recovery.”
Recently, US-China relations have been on the rocks not only due to longstanding economic disputes, but particularly due to a string of controversial Trump statements on the one-China policy, which drew anger in Beijing as it views the one-China policy as the cornerstone of its foreign policy.
In a recent interview to the Wall Street Journal ahead of his inauguration, Trump did not make any attempt to downplay his earlier statements, however, and instead reinforced his stance on the issue, arguing that “everything is under negotiation, including ‘One China.”
Cautioning Washington against going ahead with the move, China’s official Communist party newspaper the Global Times issued a what looked like a warning, writing: “The Chinese people will demand that the government take revenge,” adding that “the mainland is fully prepared.”
Tensions in US-China relations have been running high after Trump became the first American president since 1979 to speak directly with a Taiwanese leader. Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen placed a congratulatory call to Trump in December, which the president-elect took. While Trump insisted there was no political meaning to his conversation, it sparked a diplomatic scandal that does not seem to show signs of fading.