Strange times – for years, successive United States administrations prodded, cajoled and beseeched China to open up its markets and at the same time also make commitments to limit the use of fossil fuels to try to show the global effects of climate change. Today the roles have reversed. President Trump last week, signed an executive order aimed at un-doing many of the Obama administration’s climate policies amidst a growing rhetoric from the Chinese now asking the United States to meet its commitments instead and try to live up to the letter and spirit of the 2015 Paris Agreement. At home in China, the mindset is very clear in that it aims to take over the role of the US as a climate leader and to do so, it has recently announced a new five-year plan towards a green environment. The plan entails China cutting back on coal because of its lethal costs to human health as well as its carbon emissions, and a transition to energy sources of tomorrow, rather than yesterday.

Likewise, on the trade front, the free and fair (open) trade policies’ flip of the two powers comes across as being no different. Last month, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) faced its first attack from the US under Trump when Washington declared that it was no longer bound by the body’s rulings. This new US decision is a clear break from precedent that can threaten the viability of the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), where major trade conflicts are adjudicated. A letter sent from the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to Congress in February 2017, outlined a Trump Policy review by proposing changes to the very terms under which the US joined the WTO when it was founded in 1995. The new policy makes it clear that Americans are no longer directly subject to WTO rulings. The new text – entitled “The President’s 2017 Trade Policy Agenda” – also says that the US government will aggressively defend American sovereignty over matters of trade policy. And again, who is the defender? No marks for guessing the answer: China. Seeking to establish itself as the new leader of the international trade order in response to a rising tide of American protectionist sentiment, it reiterated its support to an ‘open and unbiased’ WTO, by lobbying - ironically in the same month of February - to achieve the most important post-Trump global trade breakthrough. Strongly backed by China, both the WTO and the struggling trade talks referred to as the ‘on-going Doha Round’ got a boosting shot in their arms as the members overwhelmingly voted to adopt the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). Once in effect, the TFA will truly boost global confidence in multilateral trade systems.

Moreover, the implementation of the TFA will reduce worldwide trade costs and boost global economy at the macro level; it also will help SMEs to better integrate into global value chains at the micro level.

So who is right: the US or China, and who exactly is winning the race for world’s economic supremacy? The facts are as follows: China’s economy grew 6.7 percent in 2016 and the government aims for around 6.5 percent economic growth in 2017, once again primarily on the back of global trade. International observers generally agree that China’s economic growth forecasts present a reasonable range that fully embodies the principle of making progress while maintaining stability. Sending a clear signal that China’s government will make sustained efforts to promote internal reforms, while continuing in its efforts to make a significant contribution to the overall world economic growth. In addition, in February, China’s consumer price index decreased 0.2 percent month-on-month while it rose 0.6 percent year-on-year; producer price index jumped 0.6 percent month-on-month and increased by 7.8 percent year-on-year. Core CPI inflation kept a moderate upward trend of 2016, PPI was back on the track of recovery and profitability of real economy continued to improve in February, since last year. Meaning, any suspicions on China’s economic stagnation stand disproved with a medium-to-high speed of economic growth, a stable job market and an inflation level that is well under control.

Finally, to identify China’s new vision of economic development: a new type of urbanisation; a changed definition of strategic industries; innovation-driven developments; and a transition in growth strategy through a revised model of green industrial structures, all have one common key element: A strong emphasis on global economic linkages and connectivity (CPEC and OBOR being born out of the same vision). In contrast, Trump’s America is endeavouring to primarily look inwards by believing that a rosy fortune for the Americans lies in being alienated from the world! Now one can decide for oneself, which country is winning this contest.