WASHINGTON - U.S. and Chinese officials have opened talks in Beijing, where Chinese President Xi Jinping says Washington and Beijing are working to avoid confrontation that he says would be a "disaster."
The talks are taking place against the background of increasing tension between China and its neighbors in the South China Sea -- where Vietnam says one of its patrols was rammed by China's coastguard near a Chinese oil rig in disputed waters. Beijing has warned against outside interference in the region, and Washington has not taken a position on competing territorial claims.
Secretary of State John Kerry says a more active U.S. role in Asia is not meant to contain China.
"We welcome the emergence of a peaceful, stable, prosperous China, that contributes to the stability and the development of the region, and that chooses to play a responsible role in world affairs," he said.
At the opening of this Strategic and Economic Dialogue, Kerry said Washington and Beijing have the ability to find common ground -- despite any current differences.
"That is the foundation on which we need to build decades of prosperity for the future, and also build the possibilities of stability and peace at the same time," he said.
Xi says confrontation between the United States and China benefits no one.
"China-U.S. confrontation, to the two countries and to the world, would definitely be a disaster," he said. "Under these circumstances, we on both sides should look far into the distance, strengthen and persist on co-operation, and avoid confrontation."
During the past few years these rotating talks have failed to produce much of substance. But they have helped defuse hostilities that former U.S. ambassador to China Stapleton Roy says would divide the region.
"That is not the type of world we want," he said. "And therefore, it is very important for us to have mechanisms that work and try to address the types of issues that arise between two countries such as China and the United States. And I think this Strategic and Economic Dialogue is one of those mechanisms."
American Enterprise Institute analyst Michael Auslin says these S&ED talks accomplish nothing.
"Relations between Beijing and Washington are worse than ever," he said. "Why do we continue the fiction that the S&ED is either important or constructive in any way?"
Auslin says Washington is naive about Chinese ambition.
"This does not mean we make China our number one enemy. It does not mean you create an Asian NATO against China," he said. "I think it means that you just act realistically and understand that Beijing has very little interest in upholding any of the norms that we profess are important to us in working constructively with us or our allies."
Talks in Beijing continue Thursday on bilateral investments and currency valuation.