Landmark trade talks between China and the United States concluded in Beijing on Friday, reflecting the increased interaction between the two countries this year, albeit against a backdrop of trade frictions.
"China and the United States have never been closer in their understanding of what form their diplomatic relationship should take," said Tao Wenzhao, a research fellow in American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Chinese President Hu Jintao made his intentions clear during his state visit to the United States in April. "Sharing extensive and important common strategic interests, our nations should be not only stakeholders, but also constructive cooperators," Hu said at the time.
In response, US President George Bush acknowledged that the Sino-US trade relationship had "become even stronger".
Several inaugural events served to strengthen relations between China and the United States in 2006.
The administrator of National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States Michael Griffin visited China to boost Sino-US space cooperation this September, the highest-ranking US space official to visit China in the last 12 years.
Two months later, the navies of China and the United States held their first ever joint search-and-rescue exercise on the South China Sea.
New records have also been set in the economic sector. China is now the United States' third largest trading partner and its fastest-growing exports market. In the first ten months of this year, the trade volume between the two countries reached nearly US$214.52 billion, with US exports to China up by 23.8 percent, the first step towards reducing the huge trade imbalance between the two countries.
The two countries also conducted dialogue to try and deal with international issues, particularly after North Korea's nuclear test.
The Bush administration also reiterated their adherence to the one-China policy and their opposition to Taiwan independence.
"China and the US are building a two-way relationship based on common interests," said Yuan Peng, a US studies expert with Beijing University.
"Many exchanges have occurred in scientific, cultural and military fields which showed that Sino-US ties are developing soundly, something which used to be achieved only through top-level exchanges," Yuan said.
However, trade frictions have hindered the strengthening of relations between the two countries.
China's soaring exports have sparked trade rows over a number of Chinese products including textiles, shoes, televisions and auto parts. The Ministry of Commerce said 23 countries and regions, including the United States, launched 70 anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigations against China in the first three quarters of the year.
But Yuan was keen to play down the impact of the disagreements. "Looking at the whole picture of the improvement of the Sino-US ties, trade friction is natural," he said.
The victory by the Democrats in the US mid-term elections in November provoked some commentators to cast doubts over the future development of China-US relations.
But Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao quelled the concerns, telling visiting US Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez that he realized the development of China-US relations had always been "the consensus of the Democrats and Republicans of the United States as well as the two peoples".
A direct flight from Beijing to Washington will be inaugurated in 2007 and it is highly symbolic. Next year marks the 35th anniversary of Richard Nixon's ice-breaking visit to China, and reaching further consensus on trade issues will be crucial for both nations.
(Xinhua News Agency December 18, 2006)