Fifty years since a secret visit to Beijing by then-U.S. national security adviser Henry Kissinger paved the way for American engagement with communist China, ties between the two rival powers are now heading in the opposite direction.

That trajectory is unlikely to be altered any time soon, experts say, as top officials in both countries buckle down for a long-haul competition.

“I think both countries are preparing for a prolonged, contested struggle,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund think tank.