In a swipe at US Vice-President Mike Pence's recent harsh criticism of China's domestic and foreign policies, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has demanded that the United States stop "groundless criticism" against Beijing and work towards cooperation.
At his meeting with his US counterpart Mike Pompeo in Beijing yesterday, he warned Washington against falling into a wrong path of "conflict and confrontation".
Mr Pompeo, for his part, reiterated concerns raised by Mr Pence last week over China's actions in areas such as the South China Sea, Taiwan and human rights.
The two top envoys traded barbs at a time of escalating tensions over trade and other issues between the two major powers.
Striking a more conciliatory tone later, Mr Yang Jiechi, a Politburo member who heads the Communist Party's foreign affairs commission, said at his meeting with Mr Pompeo that both countries should properly manage differences and expand pragmatic cooperation.
Mr Wang, in his remarks to reporters at the start of his meeting with Mr Pompeo, said: "Recently, as the US side has been constantly escalating trade friction towards China, it has also adopted a series of actions on issues like Taiwan that harm China's rights, and has made groundless criticism of China's domestic and foreign policies."
He added: "We believe this has been a direct attack on our mutual trust, and has cast a shadow on China-US relations.
"We demand that the US side stop this kind of misguided action."
Mr Pompeo, in his remarks, said the two sides have a "fundamental disagreement" on the issues characterised by Mr Wang.
"We have grave concerns about the actions that China has taken, and I look forward to having the opportunity to discuss each of those today because this is an incredibly important relationship," he added.
The two men also sparred over whether China had called off a strategic dialogue between the two countries' defence chiefs slated for this month.
"I regret that the strategic dialogue between our two countries is something you all chose not to undertake," said Mr Pompeo, adding: "It has been an important opportunity for us to have a discussion over these longer-term issues that present opportunities for the peoples of our two countries."
To this, Mr Wang rejoined: "Actually I would like to add that the strategic dialogue was not called off by the Chinese. I am stating a fact."
International media reported last week that China had cancelled the dialogue but the Chinese later said it was postponed at the US' request.
The world's two largest economies are embroiled in a trade war that is set to intensify as the US has threatened to impose more tariffs.
Mr Pence's remarks have been seen by some as a reset of China-US ties by Was
A key reason for Mr Pompeo's visit to the region and China - the last stop of a trip that included the two Koreas and Japan - is to push forward the North Korea denuclearisation process.
hington in which Beijing is seen more as an adversary than a partner.
While this was discussed by the two sides, bilateral issues appeared to have overshadowed it.
Reuters, however, quoted a senior State Department official as saying that the US still expected cooperation with China on efforts to denuclearise North Korea.
As a gauge of the worsening ties, Mr Pompeo, who had met Chinese President Xi Jinping while on a similar mission in June, did not meet the top Chinese leader this time.