Long before Donald Trump, with his “America first” foreign policy agenda, took office as U.S. president, relations between Washington and Beijing were in a state of gradual decline. These developments have their roots in the dramatic rearrangement of the post-1989 world order, where the fall of the Soviet Union made Beijing’s position as a counterweight to Moscow redundant for Washington. Add in mounting trade tensions and increasing Chinese aggression in the South China Seas, among other factors, and ties were fraying before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now both Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping face dueling crises that could bring both powers to a head-on, domestically driven clash.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in China, has killed over 110,000 Americans and sickened nearly 2 million. It has also rapidly sped up the deterioration in relations between the world’s top two economies. Now the United States faces interlinked public health, social and economic crises that have devastated vast swaths of the American economic landscape. Domestic developments are made only worse through urban unrest caused by the murder of an unarmed black man by a white police officer in Minnesota over a counterfeit $20 bill. As a result, Trump faces three crises providing headwinds to his re-election effort, which is just five months away. Amid domestic turmoil, he is now attempting to make opposition to China a centerpiece of his bid.

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