China's new role as a stakeholder in the global system will receive its most important test in April when President Hu Jintao makes his long-delayed state visit to Washington. There is so much to talk about and at stake. Politicians in Washington have already begun ratcheting up the pressure, with an increasing number of administration officials and lawmakers blasting China over trade, the value of the yuan, intellectual property rights, internet censorship, human rights and so on. To add further excitement, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian made another desperate attempt, late last month, to upset Sino-US relations by calling for the politically symbolic and sensitive National Unification Council to be abolished. That Mr Chen earned stern rebukes from Washington will only reinforce the impression he is already a spent force in the eyes of Washington and Beijing, and the Taiwan issue is unlikely to be a hot topic during the summit meeting between President Hu and US President George W. Bush. While friction over trade, currency and intellectual property rights will no doubt grab media attention, one test of China's global standing will be developing energy resources in foreign countries. This should be at the top of the summit agenda. China's voracious appetite for energy and its ambitious overseas quests were highlighted by a US$18.5 billion bid by the China National Offshore Oil Corp, the nation's third largest oil company, to take over California-based Unocal. The strong backlash from the US Congress scuttled the bid after lawmakers claimed China was hoarding global energy supplies, threatening national security. As I have argued in this column repeatedly, the US politicians' paranoia over CNOOC's bid for Unocal was unfounded and counterproductive and will have profound implications for China's overseas quests for energy. This has been confirmed by a US Energy Department report released earlier this month. In the report to Congress on China's energy demands, the department said Chinese companies' attempts to buy overseas energy assets were not economically damaging to the United States. The report also confirmed that CNOOC's bid for Unocal would not have posed any serious national security risks for the US other than Unocal's ownership of rare-earth mining and production facilities, which CNOOC said it would have disinvested if it took over Unocal. The report was prepared with the help of the departments of defence, state and homeland security, the treasury, and the Central Intelligence Agency, in direct response to the bid. Another key finding of the report was that China's connections to oil-rich 'despotic regimes' could pose 'potential problems' for US foreign policy goals. But Washington only has itself to blame for pushing China down this road. After the US uproar over CNOOC's bid - which was prepared and undertaken in line with the international practices - the Chinese government and oil companies stepped up efforts to court oil-rich countries in Africa and the Middle East, some of which have been condemned by the US for human right abuses, nuclear ambitions or terrorism. Leading mainland current affairs weekly Outlook said in its latest issue that China was formulating its own energy diplomatic initiatives as its quest for energy would increasingly influence foreign policy goals. It said China would seek alliances with oil-rich countries in the Middle East, Central Asia, Russia, Africa, Australia and South America. Overall, this means Beijing and Washington must enhance dialogue and communication on this issue before it becomes another flashpoint in ties. On a global scale, China and the US, the world's two largest oil consumers, should take the lead in discussing energy resources in a multilateral framework in a transparent and co-operative manner. This should allow market forces to play a bigger role in determining oil prices. On bilateral ties, Washington should encourage Beijing to be more transparent in its overseas quests for energy resources, but it should stop attempting to contain China's legitimate efforts, which would prove counterproductive, as shown by its handling of the CNOOC bid.