The United States is the world's present superpower and China is its only immediate rival. It is inevitable that they will have radically different views on the way the world might work since they come from very different backgrounds. One has a firmly capitalist and libertarian tradition and is just over 200 years old; while the other is a Communist regime, which has inherited the world's oldest empire.

But despite the obvious differences, it is vitally important that both China and the US get along in the community of nations. The two superpowers will need to have a clear working relationship. This is why this week's visit to the US by Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping, tipped to succeed Hu Jintao as Communist Party leader and China's president, is very important, as it allows both sides to have some free and frank observations, and to build the basis of an honest understanding for the future.

To date, China has not been an aggressive superpower, but its strategic investments around the world are giving it a very long reach which has alarmed the US. In turn, China has a clear sense that the US and its allies are seeking to encircle it militarily and trap it within its borders.

During this week, the Obama administration will need to spell out what it means by its new Asian strategy, and work to make it clear to China that it wants engagement over the whole range of political, economic and cultural areas. The new American military plans in Asia are still fairly light on troops, and may well have been overstated.

The Americans will be anxious to make it clear to China that they are not acting on their own, and that they have responded to their Asian allies' concerns. An honest mutual appraisal is what is needed in Washington this week.