US-China relations took another blow on Thursday when an American diplomat accused China of covering up the origins of the coronavirus pandemic during a heated United Nations (UN) Security Council meeting.
Kelly Craft, US ambassador to the UN, said Communist Party officials actively suppressed knowledge of the virus, which has gone on to claim hundreds of thousands of lives and cripple economies across the globe.
“The Chinese Communist Party’s decision to hide the origins of this virus, minimize its danger, and suppress scientific cooperation ... transformed a local epidemic into a global pandemic,” she said.
In a sharp rebuke, China’s UN ambassador, Zhang Jun, accused the US of using the UN and its Security Council of spreading a "political virus and disinformation".
"The US should understand that its failure in handling Covid-19 is totally its fault," he added.
Ms Craft, 58, was appointed to her role by President Donald Trump, who has come under fire for his handling of the pandemic. This week, US fatalities topped 200,000, while millions of Americans remain out of work.
Mr Trump, 74, has repeatedly blamed China for the pandemic as he attempts to fire up his base ahead of November's election.
"We must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague on to the world - China," the US president told the UN General Assembly earlier this week.
"In the earliest days of the virus China locked down travel domestically, while allowing flights to leave China and infect the world.
He added: “China condemned my travel ban on their country, even as they cancelled domestic flights and locked citizens in their homes.”
Beijing has refuted the claims, calling the US attacks an unfounded distraction.
Relations between the two countries have been at their lowest ebb in decades, with continuing tensions over trade, Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea and its treatment of its Muslim Uighur minority.
More recently, the two economic powerhouses have clashed over the social media app TikTok, which the US claims poses a threat to its national security.
Chinese president Xi Jinping told the UN General Assembly his country had “no intention to enter a Cold War with any country”.
During Thursday's Security Council meeting, Ms Craft also hit out at Russia after its diplomat suggested the US was blaming other countries for its internal woes.
“Shame on each of you. I am astonished and disgusted by the content of today’s discussion,” Ms Craft said. Some representatives were “squandering this opportunity for political purposes,” she added.
The UN's annual New York summit was largely held online, with world leaders providing pre-recorded speeches.