U.S. and Chinese defense officials met Tuesday in Beijing for their highest-level bilateral military talks in 18 months.

Washington is expected to focus on North Korea and international efforts to persuade the reclusive state back to talks on ending its nuclear weapons program.

U.S. undersecretary for defense Michele Flournoy is leading the U.S. side for the two days of talks. 

The Chinese side is led by Lieutenant General Ma Xiaotan, deputy chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army.

Chinese officials say the talks will cover North Korea as well as Taiwan and international security issues.

China's official news agency, Xinhua, quoted Ma as saying the meeting comes at a crucial moment. 

Xinhua says Ma told Flournoy that China believes military ties with the United States will overcome difficulties and continue to improve.

Details of Tuesday's closed-door talks were not immediately available.

A Chinese military source quoted in the China Daily newspaper says the delegations will seek ways to cooperate on issues including maritime disputes and nuclear disarmament, "despite disagreements." 

Beijing called off the high-level meeting, known as the U.S.-China Defense Consultative Talks, more than a year ago in anger over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.