A telling moment in Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Beijing this week came after Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat, delivered a catalogue of grievances against the United States. Blinken is said to have listened politely and then responded: “Mister Minister, I want to come back in the next life and work for a country that does nothing wrong.”

Wang’s response? He laughed. It seemed a moment of accommodation, when the leading diplomats of the world’s two most powerful nations accepted that each has serious concerns about the other’s behavior but they have no choice for now but to coexist.

They’re rivals, but they can also talk like adults.

Blinken’s trip to China, the first by a U.S. secretary of state in five years, marked something of a new beginning in the relationship after a sharp deterioration. But as with the “restart” of a computer, the first thing that’s visible is a blank screen. The details will come later.

President Biden dimmed the post-visit blush of enthusiasm with a loose comment Wednesday night that President Xi Jinping is a “dictator.” It was a classic “gaffe,” saying out loud what is widely understood to be the truth around the world, but it drew a sharp response from Beijing. But as with other Biden verbal missteps, the damage probably won’t last long.

What might follow in a rejuvenated Chinese-American relationship? There are some boilerplate items: more flights between the two countries; revived people-to-people exchanges; help in controlling production of the deadly drug fentanyl; and dialogue on important but “soft” global topics such as climate change, food security and public health.

China continues to refuse U.S. requests for direct military contacts to ease tensions. But to clear the way, the United States seems likely to review sanctions that were imposed on Gen. Li Shangfu in 2018, before he became defense minister, which could remove a major obstacle.

Despite China’s freeze on military contacts, Blinken and Chinese representatives discussed fundamental national security concerns. As in last month’s meeting in Vienna between Wang and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, the two sides appear to be groping toward a language to discuss the security issues that matter most, such as Taiwan and Ukraine.

Such a common language about security — even amid severe tensions — was what allowed the United States and the Soviet Union to survive the Cold War. It has been missing in the Sino-American relationship. But Blinken’s trip, like Sullivan’s before, offered some instances of real conversation.

Chinese and U.S. officials explored the crucial issue of artificial intelligence, for example. The Chinese expressed worries about the challenges it poses; the American side has its own list of concerns. It appears possible that the two could begin a dialogue that could eventually lead to global agreement on rules of the road for this promising and also terrifying technology.

On the bedrock issue of Taiwan, Blinken reiterated America’s official one-China policy and its desire to maintain the peaceful status quo. Chinese officials have argued in recent years that this policy is hollow at its core. Blinken countered by reciting detailed evidence of aggressive Chinese actions, in air and maritime space claimed by Taiwan, to argue that China, not the United States, is destabilizing the status quo.

The gap on Taiwan can’t be papered over: China wants eventual reunification, and the United States opposes it. But Blinken and Chinese officials continued the discussion begun in Vienna about possible de-escalation moves, such as better crisis communications and a mutual, reciprocal reduction in actions that the other side sees as provocative.

The evolution of a common security language appears most striking on the potentially catastrophic issue of the Ukraine war. Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang is said to have asked Blinken a series of frank questions over dinner Sunday night: Where do you see this war going? How does it end? Blinken gave America’s best analytical assessments, while stressing that the time isn’t yet ripe for settlement because of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s belief that he can outlast Ukraine and its allies.

A big change in recent months is the Biden administration’s willingness to endorse a growing Chinese global diplomatic role. That includes China’s interest in helping settle the Ukraine conflict and its success in brokering a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Blinken is said to have praised both initiatives, as well as to have lauded China’s warnings that Russia shouldn’t use nuclear weapons in the Ukraine conflict.

The Chinese initially didn’t want Blinken to come at all, at least not yet. They had been peeved about the embarrassment of the shoot-down in February of a Chinese spy balloon and Blinken’s public warnings in Munich later that month against aiding Russia in Ukraine.

Beijing’s preference was a first visit by Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen to discuss economic issues, which are of paramount interest for a China struggling to recover from its zero-covid lockdown and slow growth. But China acceded to the U.S. insistence that a Blinken visit come first.

On the road to Blinken’s Beijing trip, a balky China also sought to undermine America’s recent successful efforts to rebuild alliances. A European official told Blinken the Chinese were blaming the United States for everything — “including the weather.” But Beijing’s barbed “charm offensive” seemed to make more enemies than friends. Singapore and other key swing states are said to have warned China that the world expected it to behave like a responsible superpower.

This relationship will have continuing flash points, even as it becomes more stable. The latest example is Cuba, where China reportedly wants to expand its intelligence operations to include military training. Blinken warned that such a move would pose severe problems. And he’s said to have included a frank admonition: The Chinese say they don’t want a Cold War, but nothing invokes those dark days like the Cuban missile crisis.

That’s how mature superpowers should talk with each other. The Blinken visit was another encouraging venture in communications.

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