Few events of the past century have emphasised the need for global and regional leadership as clearly as the spread of COVID-19. This has shown immunity to all barriers – national, cultural, ideological, and individual. It has attacked the rich as well as the poor, the strong and the weak. It has made virtually every person on the planet feel vulnerable.
Traditionally in such circumstances, the United States would step forward to offer leadership, using its unique convening power and its unmatched economic, political and military might to mobilise resources and spur international efforts in a common direction. Such was the case following the Southeast Asian tsunami, the global financial crisis and the outbreak of Ebola in East Africa.
The United States has generally viewed it as a positive-sum game to navigate these global challenges with China. That is no longer the case.
Now, many American policymakers view coordination with China on COVID-19 response as a self-harming exercise in a zero-sum competition for global leadership. Such efforts, in their view, confer legitimacy on a Chinese leadership that is unworthy of it.