The softening of President Donald Trump's protectionist economic agenda has eased fears of a global trade war. It also spares China from having to assert itself as defender of the existing global economic order or being forced to take the lead in forging a new one.

An improving growth outlook lifted the spirits of finance chiefs meeting in Washington for the first get-together of the International Monetary Fund since Trump's election. While his "America First" position on trade prompted delegates to adopt the same position taken by the Group of 20 last month, when it dropped a commitment to resisting protectionism, there was cautious optimism the current economic order may shift but not crumble.

That suits Beijing, which benefited from a global trading system that fueled its rise from agrarian poverty to the factory to the world. Now, as China's factories seek to upgrade and the economy is driven less by exports and more by consumption, its leaders appear happy to stick with the current rule book that Trump's rhetoric, if not his actions, has questioned.