China is prepared to take the helm of the global economy if Western nations abdicate their leadership role, a top Chinese diplomat said Monday, days after U.S. President Donald Trump pledged in his inaugural address to put “America first.”
“If it’s necessary for China to play the role of leader, then China must take on this responsibility,” Zhang Jun, head of the Chinese foreign ministry’s office of international economic affairs, told a small group of foreign reporters in Beijing.
Mr. Zhang made the comments following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip last week to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he delivered a defense of economic globalization in a speech that likened trade protectionism to “locking oneself in a dark room.”
Many who listened to Mr. Xi’s Davos speech saw it as a rebuke to Western politicians like Mr. Trump, who have pushed for a more inward focus. A stream of commentary in Chinese state media has since sought to portray Mr. Xi as an internationalist and China as the new standard-bearer for free trade.
China’s Foreign Ministry has been cautious on the subject. But with Mr. Trump painting an especially glum picture of the effects of globalization in his inaugural speech on Friday, Mr. Zhang entertained the idea of China adopting a new global role.
“If people want to say China has taken a position of leadership, it’s not because China suddenly thrust itself forward as a leader. It’s because the original front-runners suddenly fell back and pushed China to the front,” he said.
Mr. Trump on Friday said the U.S. needed to protect its borders “from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.”