DAVOS, SWITZERLAND - It is shaping up to be the Great Game of the 21st century. To top officials and business executives here at the World Economic Forum, Topic A this year was the race to develop greener, cleaner technology, which is emerging as one of the critical factors in reshaping the world economy as emerging powers snap at the heels of battered Western economies.
With the United States and China sizing each other up across the Pacific and Europe seeking to maintain its economic stature, it is a battle for potentially millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in export revenues. The outcome - which pits a venture capital-driven market approach relying on government subsides against a top-down system of state capitalism - has the potential to influence how economic and political systems evolve.
Concern that China may be edging ahead in potentially lucrative growth sectors like renewable energy was palpable here, where senior officials from the United States and Europe warned that the West could not afford to be complacent.
"Six months ago my biggest worry was that an emissions deal would make American business less competitive compared to China," said Senator Lindsay Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who has been deeply involved in climate change issues in Congress. "Now my concern is that every day that we delay trying to find a price for carbon is a day that China uses to dominate the green economy."
He added: "China has made a long-term strategic decision and they are going gang-busters."
David Fuller's view For years China was seen as a pariah state in terms of pollution, and not without justification. We last saw this at the United Nations climate meeting in Copenhagen, approximately a year ago, which ended in acrimony when China and other developing countries refused to accept limits on their emissions.
However China soon realised that green energy was going to be very big business, and therefore a vital global industry where they could assume leadership. After all, they have the engineers, skilled workers, organisation and most of all, the capital to target these industries.
Today, China dominates in both solar and wind power, and we will soon be able to include nuclear power technology.