Relations between China and the United States have soured to the point that talk of a new cold war among some analysts is being escalated to the possibility of military confrontation. Talks in Hawaii on Wednesday between the nations’ top diplomats, Yang Jiechi and Mike Pompeo, therefore gave hope that even if putting ties on an even keel is not possible in the short term, tempers can at least be cooled. The one-hour meeting followed by dinner was described by Beijing as “constructive” and that the two sides had agreed to continue engagement and communication. In so uncertain an environment, any such effort to ease tensions is to be welcomed. That is not to say that the highest-level talks between Chinese and American officials so far this year had no substance. Yang, a powerful member of the Politburo, raised contentious issues in his discussions with the US secretary of state. He told Pompeo that Beijing was committed to building a non-confrontational and mutually respectful relationship with Washington, but China would also resolutely defend its territory, security and development interests. The nation’s stance on Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang was articulated and criticism made of a new law involving the latter that American President Donald Trump had just signed authorising sanctions against Chinese officials over the alleged mass internment of Muslim ethnic minority groups. Expectations for the talks had been low given the rhetoric between the sides in recent months, the American language being driven by presidential elections in November. Trump, under fire at home for his poor response to the Covid-19 crisis, has turned to anti-Chinese sentiment to shore up support. Adding to trade and technology tensions, he has blamed China for the spread of the coronavirus and even suggested that “we could cut off the whole relationship”. But relations are highly interconnected, especially with investment and manufacturing. The nations need one another for growth and development and the world relies on their cooperation to resolve critical issues. The talks in Hawaii are a positive sign they both recognise the dangers of decoupling and engaging makes more sense.