Pressure to choose sides between the U.S. and China is growing amid the arrival of an “Asian century,” a top European diplomat said today.

Europe is facing an “existential crisis” sparked by the COVID-19 crisis, which could be a catalyst in the demise of an American-led system, according to Josep Borrell, a vice president of the European Commission branch of the European Union (EU).

The diplomat, who also serves as the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, told virtual participants of the German Ambassadors’ Conference 2020 that the pandemic could be considered a “great accelerator of history.”

Borrell claimed that in the world that emerges Asia will be increasingly important, while noting that China is fast becoming “more powerful and assertive.”

“Analysts have long talked about the end of an American-led system and the arrival of an Asian century. This is now happening in front of our eyes,” he said. “If the 21st century turns out to be an Asian century, as the 20th was an American one, the pandemic may well be remembered as the turning point of this process.”

His comments were first reported by the Associated Press.

Tensions have spiked between the U.S. and China in recent years,, with tit-for-tat trade tariffs being slapped on goods by both countries. U.S. officials have also complained about national security concerns linked to Chinese tech firms, and 5G.

This month, president Donald Trump told Fox Business that he didn’t want to speak with China’s leader, Xi Jinping, and suggested the U.S. may cut ties.

“We could cut off the whole relationship,” he told Fox host Maria Bartiromo. “Now if you did, what would happen? You would save 500 billion dollars.”

In April, Trump said in a briefing that “serious investigations” were being conducted into China’s handling of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which ravaged America this year, causing more than 1.6 million infections and close to 98,000 deaths.

China has claimed its own virus infection and death rates have plunged, although official health statistics have been met with widespread scepticism.

“We are not happy with that whole situation because we believe it could have been stopped at the source, it could have been stopped quickly, and it wouldn’t have spread all over the world. And we think that should have happened,” Trump fumed.

Borrell said today that the need for multilateral cooperation has “never been greater” but raised concerns that leadership from the White House is lacking.

“This is the first major crisis in decades where the U.S. is not leading the international response,” the EU diplomat said. “Maybe they don’t care, but everywhere we look we see increasing rivalries, especially between the U.S. and China.

He added: “The pressure to choose sides is growing. As the EU, we should follow our own interests and values and avoid being instrumentalized by one or the other.

Borrell went on to say that U.S.-China rivalry is often having a “paralysing” effect on the multilateral system, fueling more arguments and vetoes than agreements.

According to the transcript, he said: “We need a more robust strategy for China, which also requires better relations with the rest of democratic Asia. That’s why we must invest more in working with India, Japan, South Korea et cetera.

The top EU diplomat continued: “Our ambitions are only credible if we back them with a sense of shared ownership and responsibility among Member States. There seems to be less trust and common ground among us, right when we need it most.”