A group of American and Chinese space scientists had an informal meeting at the COSPAR 2012 meeting last month to discuss ways to improve cooperation between the two countries. It was a closed-door meeting, so details on what was discussed are unavailable, nor do I have a list of the attendees. But it's reasonable to surmise that those on the U.S. side these were non-NASA space scientists who, as such, are not subject to the onerous and misguided Wolf Amendment that effectively bars any NASA contacts or conversations with China.
However, given that many at NASA - not to mention most sensible outside observers - don't agree with the intent or implications of the Wolf Amendment, it's also quite possible that these conversations had the informal blessing of NASA leadership. But on this point I merely speculate.
The problem - and this is on both sides - is that reactionary elements in both countries would rather have confrontation than cooperation or collaboration. China's space program is run by the PLA who are not known for their transparency. (Nor is the Pentagon, for that matter - and in most instances that is of course proper.)
The U.S. should engage in open conversations with China on space cooperation. It would be nice to discuss inviting China to join the list of ISS partners, or a joint mission to Mars, but those are a bit beyond the scope of what's currently politically possible. A good start would be even more important, but rather mundane, issues such as orbital debris and simply understanding the other's space strategy objectives. The first step in preventing misunderstandings that lead to strategic miscalculations is to increase transparency. China is not monolithic. Empowering the right people, initially through contact and conversation, not only increases understanding and lays the groundwork for (possible) future joint activities - it also disempowers those who benefit from paranoia and hostility. On both sides of the Pacific.
Image: Adapted from Indiana University