The first round of a high-level strategic dialogue between China and the United States opened on August 1 in Beijing.
On behalf of their respective governments, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo and US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick attended the meeting where they exchanged candid and in-depth views on a range of bilateral, regional and international matters of common concern.
The first ever high-level strategic dialogue between the world's largest developing and developed countries has attracted extensive interest in the wider international community.
Many are wondering if the first-ever strategic dialogue will be able to resolve past confrontations, and what influence the talks will have on bilateral and international relations.
At any time, talking through areas of friction is certainly the best course for two countries to take when their interests and concerns are intertwined.
The holding of the first round of the strategic dialogue demonstrates that Beijing and Washington still have a lot of room to develop the communication channel.
Compared to other exchange or dialogue channels that exist between China and the United States, the recently concluded strategic dialogue is less developed.
Currently there are two kinds of irregular exchange between the two countries. One is the exchange of visits by high-level government officials and even top leaders.
Chinese President Hu Jintao and US President George W. Bush are expected to hold six meetings this year. The foreign ministers of the two nations are also due to hold talks, and there will be a number of meetings of ministry and committee representatives.
The other exchange channel is the establishment of a high-level hotline.
The hotline linking the heads of the two countries and direct telephone contact between foreign ministers have served as very important channels for communication.
At the same time, there are at least four regular communication mechanisms between China and the United States.
Beijing and Washington set up a human rights dialogue mechanism in 1990. A joint commercial and trading committee, chaired by Chinese Vice-Premier Wu Yi, was established as early as in 1983. The committee decided one regular meeting should be held every year.
The two countries set up a defence affairs consultation mechanism at the vice-ministerial level, which calls for two meetings per year.
China's National People's Congress (NPC) , the country's top legislature, and the US Senate have decided to set up a panel with two gatherings every year.
Compared to both regular and irregular dialogue mechanisms, the current strategic dialogue is conducted at a relatively low level.
The United States has also established a strategic dialogue mechanism with Japan, the Republic of Korea and other allies.
Take the two plus two (2+2) talks held early this year between Washington and Tokyo. The two countries' defence and foreign ministers participated.
Compared to the 2+2 talks, the strategic dialogue between the China and the United States is obviously at a lower level.
Though dialogue level is not the only criterion with which its importance is gauged, it is necessary for the two countries to improve their dialogue level if they are to achieve a breakthrough in strategic affairs.
Given the fragility of Sino-US political relations, regular dialogue mechanisms between the two countries are in danger of being broken off if any major conflict or controversy occurs.
According to an accord reached by China and the United States, the human rights consultation mechanism should hold two meetings every year. However, only 13 meetings had been held in the 12 years following its establishment.
The joint commercial and tradecommittee should have held 23 meetings by this year. However, the 16th meeting was convened in Beijing not long ago.
According to an agreement, China's NPC and the US Senate should hold two meetings every year, but so far only seven rounds have been convened.
Beijing and Washington set up an annual defence affairs consultation mechanism at vice-ministerial level in 1997. But the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in the former Yugoslavia by US-led NATO put the brakes on the exchange, which only resumed in December 2002.
China and the United States share common views about the direction in which the strategic dialogue should be steered.
Comments made by China's foreign ministry spokesman and by Zoellick in Hong Kong demonstrate that the Sino-US strategic dialogue will surpass concrete affairs and aim to deepen mutual understanding, enhance trust and expand co-operation.
As two influential countries, China and the United States have clearly realized the importance of enhancing trust and eliminating suspicion.
Mutual distrust and misgivings are caused by a string of complicated factors, such as differences in political systems, cultural divergence, and inevitable competition and a lack of trust between an emerging power and the only superpower.
The easing of these conflicts depends on a change in international structure and the deepening of all kinds of exchanges between the two countries. High-level dialogue on a regular basis will effectively help share information and prevent costly strategic misjudgements.
The strategic dialogue between China and the United States is a good starting point. It will be beneficial for stabilizing bilateral constructive and co-operative relations. Still, the dialogue can be more strategic if it is held at a higher level.
With the increasing deepening of Sino-US relations, the strategic dialogue between the two countries is expected to enter a crucial stage in the future.