US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has met Chinese President Hu Jintao, amid rumbling regional tensions over the South China Sea.
Mrs Clinton, who is in Beijing for two days, said US-China ties were on a "solid basis" as the talks began.
But Chinese state media has hit out at US involvement in maritime disputes with its South East Asian neighbours.
One commentary accused the US of "attempting to sow discord in order to fish for advantage".
Mrs Clinton arrived in China late on Tuesday ahead of a full day of talks on Wednesday. She will hold a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi later in the day.
But a planned meeting with Xi Jinping - widely expected to be China's next president - was cancelled for unspecified reasons.
Meeting Mr Hu in the Great Hall of the People, Mrs Clinton said the bilateral relationship was strong.
"We are able to explore areas of agreement and disagreement in a very open manner, which I think demonstrates the maturity of the relationship and the chance to take it further in the future," she said.
She arrived in Beijing from Indonesia, where talks had focussed on the territorial rows with China over the South China Sea and regional bloc Asean's role in resolving disputes.
Mrs Clinton said the US took no position on the claims, but urged Asean nations to "work collaboratively to resolve disputes without coercion, without intimidation and certainly without the use of force".
Asean (Association of South East Asian Nations) has been divided on the issue and failed to agree a joint statement at its most recent summit.
Ahead of her arrival, the Chinese foreign ministry expressed its hope that the US would maintain its stated position of neutrality.
"We hope the US side will keep its commitment and make efforts that help, rather than harm, regional peace and stability," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters.
An editorial in Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily took a stronger line, referring also to another territorial row with Japan over East China Sea islands.
"The United States' recent conduct concerning the Diaoyu islands [called Senkaku by Japan] and South China Sea issues cannot but create the suspicion that it is attempting to sow discord in order to fish for advantage," it said.
"In the long term, this kind of adjustment in the United States' Asia-Pacific strategy will not bring gains, and could even backfire."