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.

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