A woman wears a face mask at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California on 2 March 2020. (AFP)
The coronavirus pandemic is further hampering the already strained relationship between the US and China, with the pair trading barbs over its origin and spread.
In January, US Senator Tom Cotton, a long-time China hawk, opened the salvo, hinting that the virus might have been released by a laboratory in Wuhan - an accusation subsequently recirculated by the US government. In China, a foreign ministry spokesperson raised the possibility that the virus might have been brought into the country by the US military.
US President Donald Trump has been alternating between praise for China and finger-pointing, calling coronavirus the “Chinese virus” - a label Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tried unsuccessfully to sell to the G7.
Beijing has reacted with an assertive global public relations campaign aimed at improving its standing, delivering medical supplies to many countries affected by the pandemic. This activism has fuelled fears that Beijing may use the pandemic to upend the global order.
Some right-wing US news outlets have even raised the possibility that China may be asked to pay for the damages caused by the pandemic, while UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has warned that relations with China could not go back to business as usual without explanations over how Beijing handled the outbreak.
This is a dangerous path that should not be pursued. Try to imagine the reactions if, after the 2008 financial crisis, the US was asked to explain and compensate for the global damage its reckless financial system had caused? Or if China asked the same for the decades of Western interventions on its soil?
This month, Trump was criticised for opting to cut funding to the World Health Organization. He again blamed China, and the UN agency, for failing to promptly alert the world about the pandemic. On the same day, the Associated Press (AP) published a report, recirculated by major Western news outlets, with the headline: “China didn’t warn public of likely pandemic for 6 key days.”