Regional security and regional order in East Asia are shaped profoundly by the United States, the People’s Republic of China, and U.S.-China relations. The COVID-19 crisis accelerated a negative trajectory in the relationship between Washington and Beijing. As with so many issues, here, too, the situation in the time of COVID is much like the status quo ante, only more so. The pandemic-related and pandemic-exacerbated problems in U.S.-China relations pose challenges for security and stability in East Asia. They do so in ways that several theories of international relations would predict. This is the first of a two-part series, the latter of which will appear in an upcoming issue of Orbis.