In his foreign policy address Friday, Secretary of State Colin Powell hailed China's brokering of multilateral talks on North Korea's nuclear program and said U.S.-Chinese relations are in their best shape since President Richard Nixon's opening to the Communist government in 1972.

Mr. Powell says the relationship has improved steadily after a rough beginning at the start of the Bush administration, when an American surveillance plane was forced down in China after colliding with a Chinese fighter. In a policy address at George Washington University, he said it is not because the sides are ignoring problems such as China's human rights record, but because neither side any longer views the other in absolute terms.

"Neither we nor the Chinese leadership anymore believe that there is anything inevitable about our relationship, either inevitably bad or inevitably good," he said. "We believe that it is up to us together to take responsibility for our common future and we do not conceive that future in zero-sum terms."

In welcoming China's role on North Korea, Mr. Powell said the interests of the two powers do not entirely coincide. But he said neither wants to see a nuclear-armed North Korea, an economic collapse of that country and an ensuing refugee crisis, or another Korean war.