US President Donald Trump (L) and China's President Xi Jinping leave a business leaders event at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 9, 2017. Donald Trump urged Chinese leader Xi Jinping to work "hard" and act fast to help resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis, during their meeting in Beijing on November 9, warning that "time is quickly running out". / AFP PHOTO / Nicolas ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images)

Relations between the United States and China have sunk to new lows in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, with both sides hoping to make political gains by blaming the other for the severity of the crisis.

US President Donald Trump blamed China for the global pandemic again on Wednesday, claiming Beijing could have stopped the outbreak, which he labeled as “the worst attack we’ve ever had on our country.”

Earlier that day, China’s Foreign Ministry said that the US should focus on fixing its problems at home and “stop spreading disinformation or misleading the international community.”

The divisions between Beijing and Washington go back long before the viral outbreak in Wuhan, and are unlikely to end when the global coronavirus pandemic is brought under control.

Standoff in the South China Sea

It is hard to pinpoint the moment when US-China relations began to slide from a wary cordiality to rising hostility on both sides, but one marker would be the beginning of Beijing’s attempts to secure its hold on the South China Sea.

A strategically important global shipping lane, the People’s Republic of China has long claimed the vast majority of the South China Sea as part of its territory, marked out by the country’s widely-disseminated nine-dash line which covers most of the region.

From around 2015, the Chinese government began to aggressively assert these claims by turning reefs and shoals across the sea into man-made islands, on which they built defensive structures and stationed troops and radar equipment.

China’s militarization of the region has provoked angry reactions from neighboring countries thatalso claim portions of the South China Sea, such as Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as the United States government.