The prospect of regular and high-level discussions between Beijing and Washington on energy issues is a highly encouraging development. Few other issues highlight the international challenges posed by China's rise quite as sharply as energy; just 14 years ago the mainland did not need to import oil, now it is the world's second-largest consumer and a key factor in soaring global oil prices. The ever-growing thirst for imports to sustain its high growth is in part driving China's international diplomacy, sparking a flurry of deals from Venezuela to Sudan. The US is, of course, the world's largest oil consumer and its citizens are among the highest users per capita. The two countries are the world's two largest oil importers. In that environment, the potential for tension and conflict between the economic giants over dwindling energy resources is ever-present. Beijing and Washington, as we report today, are exploring the possibility of a Sino-US energy summit and cabinet-level consultations. The decision to move energy issues beyond the fledgling Strategic Economic Dialogue was hatched in a recent telephone call between President Hu Jintao and his US counterpart George W. Bush. The move shows a positive proactive approach by both capitals to potential problems in the Sino-US relationship, further highlighting maturing and deepening ties unthinkable just a few years ago. Significantly, the energy discussions will also cover related environmental issues as both capitals respond to growing international concern over the pace and scope of global climate change. Here, too, both countries are deeply linked. Both have different but questionable environmental records. And by 2009, the mainland will overtake the US as the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas linked to global warming. It is hoped that over time the environmental element of the talks will dominate as the two sides support each other in a post-oil world. China could prove a key market for US advances in new safe energy technology - co-operation that could have a global impact.