First it was a 'surprise encounter' between Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan in a corridor in Brussels, Belgium; then an impromptu meeting between Vice-Premier Wang Qishan and US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner at the airport in the seaside city of Qingdao, Shandong . Tomorrow state councillor Dai Bingguo is going to rendezvous with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton informally in Hainan . Is this a new era of flexible Chinese diplomacy? While hailing such meetings on the sidelines of regional summits as creative and timely breaks with protocol, Chinese foreign affairs pundits said this run of flexibility is probably temporary and more a response to China's current diplomatic predicament than a change of style. Of course, the chosen locations were largely a matter of convenience, too. It all started at the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Brussels e this month, where Wen reportedly bumped into Kan in a corridor that happened to have two chairs. There was also an attache fluent in both Chinese and Japanese, which allowed the two to chat for half an hour. A week later, the defence ministers of both countries 'bumped into' one another again in a lift lobby during the Asean defence ministers' meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam. The Chinese suspened all high-level dialogue after Japan's arrest of a Chinese trawler captain in early September in the disputed waters of Diaoyu Islands and remained ambivalent regarding a formal meeting between Wen and Kan. Less reported but equally surprising was Wen's detour to Berlin during ASEM. Wen and German Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel could have talked there, but no, the two went to Meseberg Palace, the government guesthouse 70 kilometres north of Berlin. Wen was whisked to Meseberg by helicopter in the late afternoon, met Merkel for two hours and rushed back to Brussels after dinner. Geithner's stopover in the airport in Qingdao on Sunday was already the second of its kind: he had also met Wang, China's top official on economic affairs, at the Beijing airport in April on the way home from India. Clinton did not include China on the announced itinerary of her whirlwind tour to Asia this week while attending regional summits and renewing Washington's pledge to step up ties with Asian countries. But on Wednesday China announced the Dai-Clinton meeting in Hainan, once again suggesting a last-minute effort for the two to meet somewhere between Beijing and Hanoi, site of the East Asia Summit. Professor Li Mingjiang of Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said the reasons behind a flurry of informal diplomacy were twofold. 'China has reacted strongly on many fronts in the first half this year, resulting in observations that China has toughened up and, in some cases, making situations more difficult for China,' Li said. 'Some leaders might have reflected and pushed for a different approach.' On the other hand, China is also up against some serious challenges and pressures from the US and the region, which prompted China to be proactive and think of alternatives. Professor Shi Yinhong of Renmin University said all these meetings took place against the background of imminent problems, and were only 'contingency plans'. Professor Tao Wenzhao, a historian and Sino-US researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said flexible diplomacy even had a precedent. When Sino-Soviet relations were at their lowest in 1969, premier Zhou Enlai and Soviet prime minister Aleksey Kosygin also held a last-minute meeting at the Beijing airport, and it defused military tensions between the two.