Joel Gehrke explores for the Washington Examiner the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on American relations with the Chinese communist government.

American and Chinese officials are engaged in an ideological “battle” occasioned by the novel coronavirus pandemic that could shape global perceptions of free societies and authoritarian regimes, according to U.S. officials.

“There is a real question, that I don’t think has been resolved yet, about which one of the multiple competing narratives prevails here,” a senior U.S. official who was not authorized to speak publicly told the Washington Examiner. “Does this advance distrust? Or does it advance trust towards China and its system? That battle is really to be determined. And, I think that’s a battle that’s in the works right now.”

CIA officials have warned in recent years that the Chinese Communist Party is waging “a cold war” against the United States, but western analysts traditionally have maintained that Beijing doesn’t share the late Soviet Union’s ambition to spread communism. Yet China is trying to “make the world safe for their own brand of authoritarianism” at the expense of democratic systems, according to senior U.S. diplomats, and the pandemic has brought that ideological rivalry to the center of the diplomatic arena.

“Over the course of the crisis we’ve monitored a couple of narrative tracks,” Special Envoy Lea Gabrielle, the State Department’s top counter-propaganda official, told reporters Friday. “One is malign disinformation to falsely blame the U.S. as the origin of the coronavirus, and the second has been China’s effort to turn the crisis into a news story highlighting supremacy of the Chinese Communist Party in handling the health crisis.”

Gabriel’s team has observed an abundance of that messaging from China targeted at developing nations in Africa, as well as the Western Hemisphere, but the debate has been joined at the highest levels of diplomacy.