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A Chinese flag is seen near a construction site in Beijing's central business area, China, January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee(reuters_tickers)
BEIJING (Reuters) - China does not want world leadership but could be forced to assume that role if others step back from that position, a senior Chinese diplomat said on Monday, after U.S. President Donald Trump pledged to put "America first" in his first speech.
Zhang Jun, director general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's international economics department, made the comments during a briefing with foreign journalists to discuss President Xi Jinping's visit to Switzerland last week.
Topping the bill at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Xi portrayed China as the leader of a globalised world where only international cooperation could solve the big problems.
Speaking days before Trump assumed the presidency, Xi also urged countries to resist isolationism, signalling Beijing's desire to play a bigger role on the global stage.
Elaborating on that theme, Zhang said China had no intention of seeking global leadership.
"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 front runners have stepped back leaving the place to China," Zhang said.
"If China is required to play that leadership role then China will assume its responsibilities," he added.
At his inauguration on Friday, Trump struck a nationalist and populist tone, pledging to end what he called an "American carnage" of rusted factories and crime.
China is the world's second-largest economy and others also rely on it for their economic growth, Zhang said.
"We still hope that the United States and other Western economies can continue to make an even bigger contribution to the world economic recovery. We've heard Trump announce that the United States will achieve four percent growth and we're very happy about that," he added.
While Trump said American workers have been devastated by the outsourcing of jobs abroad, he did not mention China by name in his inaugural speech. However, he has threatened to put punitive tariffs on imports of Chinese goods.
Zhang said he thought Trump would not be able to achieve his economic growth goals if he was also fighting trade wars.
"A trade war or an exchange rate war won't be advantageous to any country," Zhang added.
Separately, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Xi had sent a congratulatory message to Trump upon his assumption of office, but gave no other details.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)