U.S. Vice President Joe Biden made a forceful call for China to stop cyber theft, as he opened two days of annual talks between the two world powers in Washington.
In his opening remarks Wednesday, Biden said China must end the "outright" theft of intellectual property, which recent reports say has cost the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars a year.
The cabinet-level talks are a regular opportunity for Washington and Beijing to discuss, and sometimes square off on, issues of both cooperation and disagreement.
The dialogue comes weeks after U.S. President Barack Obama hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping for an informal summit in California, where both leaders struck a largely friendly tone.
Biden's speech was more matter-of-fact, stressing areas of common interest, but not ignoring sensitive topics such as U.S. concerns about China's human rights record and economic reforms.
On human rights, Biden acknowledged differences, but said he believed China will be "stronger and more stable and more innovative if it represents and respects the international human rights norms."
U.S. officials said Secretary of State John Kerry was "very forceful" during private discussions on human rights, and raised specific issues with the Chinese delegation.
Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi said Beijing was ready to discuss such topics, but on the basis of "equality and mutual respect." But Vice Premier Wang Yang stressed Beijing cannot accept views that undermine its political system.
In the past, U.S. officials have raised concerns over China's treatment of government critics, restrictions on free speech, and policies in ethnic areas such as Tibet and western Xinjiang province.
The Chinese and U.S. delegations also disagree on a wide range of economic issues. The U.S. wants China to allow the value of its yuan currency to rise. It has also complained about Chinese restrictions on foreign investment.
In his remarks Wednesday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew welcomed China's commitments to further open up its economy, but called on Beijing to do more to "decisively" follow through on such promises.
But cyber theft was said to be at the top of the agenda for U.S. officials, who have warned that the issue could become a major obstacle for U.S.-China relations.
Prior to the start of the dialogue, the two sides held their first-ever working group on cyber security, where both sides agreed to expand cooperation on the issue.
Washington and Beijing have recently traded accusations of cyber hacking attacks.
The Obama administration has accused China of involvement in a broad Internet hacking campaign to steal secrets from U.S. government institutions and businesses for economic gain.
China has denied the accusations, saying it is the victim and not the perpetrator of such attacks. It has become more outspoken on the issue since the revelations of ex-U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden.
Some of the recent documents leaked by Snowden have suggested that U.S. spies hacked Internet traffic in China and its autonomous region Hong Kong for years to gather intelligence.
The White House has argued that there is a difference between spying for intelligence-gathering purposes and spying for economic and commercial gain.