This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post on May 21, 2020.

Every morning, I awake to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo excoriating the Chinese government, and China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs excoriating Pompeo. The catastrophic effects of the coronavirus pandemic demonstrate the dangers of these policies.

China’s failure to cooperate during the onset of the virus, coupled with America’s massive reduction of its health care presence in China because of both governments’ focus on strategic competition, has potentially cost thousands of American and Chinese lives. It is urgent that we re-establish channels for Americans and Chinese to communicate and reduce the damage of this strategic competition.

Beginning in 2017, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reduced its staff in Beijing from 47 people to 14, with losses including epidemiologists and the position of an American trainer of Chinese epidemiologists. In the same period, the US’ Agency for International Development and National Science Foundation, both of which have roles in monitoring disease, closed their Beijing offices.

On January 6, the US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar offered to send a CDC expert team to China. That offer was repeated later in the month, including by me personally, but it wasn’t until February 10 that several American experts participated in the World Health Organisation’s joint mission. Too little, too late.

The crisis perfectly illustrates why the United States and China must cooperate. While the two countries will compete economically and diplomatically, strategic competition – with the accompanying suspicion, restrictions on economic activity and increased defence spending – only harms the American and Chinese peoples.

In 1979, US president Jimmy Carter and Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping inaugurated an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity in East Asia. In the preceding five decades, a quarter of a million American soldiers had died on the battlefields of Asia.

By 2018, China was one of America’s largest export destinations, supporting some 700,000 American jobs, in addition to the more than 140,000 Americans employed by Chinese-owned companies in the US.

China's actions in the South China Sea, in violation of its commitments to US president Barack Obama, cyber intrusions, its arrest and internment of dissidents and Uygur Muslims, and its stifling of economic competition have all helped push the US towards viewing the relationship as a strategic competition.

Instead, China should agree with concerned states on a code of conduct in the South China Sea, and jointly develop the resources in disputed areas with the claimant states. China has signed international conventions regarding its treatment of its own citizens; it should comply with those conventions.

It should implement economic reforms proposed during the Third Plenum of the 18th Party Congress; open its market to Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter; and remove blocks on US media outlets such as Bloomberg, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

The United States should recognise that the designation of China in its National Security and Defence Strategies as a strategic competitor and revisionist power creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. With federal government deficits exploding as a result of coronavirus aid, the US, as well as the Chinese government, will need to find ways to cut expenses. Otherwise, the US will starve education, infrastructure and social programmes of funding.

For its part, the US should reduce tariffs on Chinese goods to pre-2018 levels, welcome discussions about Huawei's offer to license its 5G technology and manufacturing to an American company, clarify that Chinese investment in the US is still welcome, establish clear guidelines and due process for Chinese companies placed on the Entity List and declassify, to the extent possible, decisions by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

The focus of counter-espionage efforts should be on potential lawbreakers, and not on the Chinese and Chinese-American communities.

With strategic competition put aside, a number of reciprocal steps can be taken. These include establishing a careful definition of national security accepted by both countries so that job-creating investments and exports can continue to flow, narrowly limiting visa denials and assuring the Chinese do the same.

While Americans do not share the values of the Chinese leadership, China does not pose an existential threat to Americans and their way of life. Characterising the relationship as strategic competition lessens US influence over Chinese policy decisions.

Would the Chinese leadership be more or less willing to listen to a partner or strategic competitor regarding issues such as Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems”, Taiwan, human rights, economic reform or cybersecurity?

The true threats to our societies are common. A mother in Shanghai and a mother in New York both fear that the sea will rise as a result of climate change to destroy their homes, that terrorists could kill their family or friends, or that an economic crisis will deprive their children of a better future.

The destructive path of Covid-19 has been enabled by this unnecessary strategic competition. End it now and the peoples of America and China will benefit.

Stephen A. Orlins is president of the National Committee on US-China Relations. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the NCUSCR.