Chinese and U.S. officials began high-level talks in Beijing on Wednesday amid warnings that a downward spiral in bilateral ties could spell disaster for the world.
Officials met for a sixth round of strategic talks in a climate of disagreement on regional maritime disputes, climate change, economic issues and terrorism.
Beijing is currently unhappy at Washington's apparently too-cool response to the ruling Chinese Communist Party's own "war on terror" in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang, home to the country's Muslim Uyghur population, official media reported.
"Terrorism is terrorism," Yang Jiechi, a member of China's cabinet, the State Council, told U.S. officials, calling for stronger collaboration between the two countries.
"Wherever it occurs, in whatever form out of whatever kind of reason, the international community should take a clear stance and work together to fight it," Yang said.
China says it is reeling from a serious terrorism threat following a string of deadly attacks it blames on Xinjiang separatists, but has refused to provide evidence to back its claims.
Foreign governments and experts say it is hard to gauge the scale of China's terrorism problem in the absence of detailed information on four high-profile attacks since last October that left nearly 80 people dead and wounded scores of others.
Chinese President Xi Jinping warned that confrontation between China and the United States would be "disastrous."
"Sino-U.S. cooperation will achieve things that are beneficial to both countries and the world, while confrontation will be disastrous," the official Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying at the start of the dialogue.
"China and the United States...avoid confrontation, for their own sake and also for the world's," Xi said.
Conspicuously absent from official statements at this round of talks is the phrase "strategic partnership," analysts said.
"Relations between China and the U.S. right now are chock full of strategic conflicts, competing national interests, which are coming more and more to the fore," Yang Liyu, professor of East Asian Studies at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, told RFA's Mandarin Service.
Rising regional tensions linked to Beijing's maritime disputes with China's immediate, but smaller, neighbors, have contributed to a cooling in ties as smaller East Asian countries like Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines look to Washington for support.
"That's why Japan and the Philippines and the other countries are looking to the U.S. to balance China's regional power. The two sides will never reach agreement on this question," Yang added.
China's economy is a powerhouse, while it is also growing in military power," Yang said. "Its diplomatic influence is also growing, and the U.S. can't do anything about that."
"All it can do is...strengthen its relationship with Japan."
And intellectual property has proved a long-running sticking point in trade relations, Yang said.
"There is no traditional concept of intellectual property in China," he said.
Meanwhile, China's official media singled out cyberespionage as an issue further souring ties with the U.S., which hopes to reinstate bilateral talks on the issue during this visit.
The source of the friction, according to a commentary carried by Xinhua, was the "fabricated" cyberespionage charges brought by a court in the U.S. against five Chinese military officers accused of online spying.
"The unexpected and baseless accusation from the United States, who itself, ironically, is knitting the world's largest wiretapping web...has eroded strategic trust between China and the United States," the commentary said.
It cited the case of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, denied market access over security concerns, while Beijing was scrutinizing the use of IBM servers by its state-owned banks.
"It is...imperative that Washington immediately withdraws the made-up charges against the Chinese officers and return to the course of dialogue and cooperation," the article said.
According to Zheng Zhuyuan, a U.S.-based veteran of the Sino-Japanese War and honorary professor at Indiana's Ball State University, said the current overall decline in the bilateral relationship is linked to the policies of newly assertive president Xi Jinping, who took power in November 2012.
"Since he came to power, Xi Jinping's attitude to foreign relations has been very clear: he isn't willing to make a lot of compromises," Zheng said.
Guangdong-based independent commentator Ye Du said President Barack Obama's pivot in Asia strategy came as Beijing was ending an era of muted and careful diplomacy.
"China has just ended its previous habitual strategy and now wants to rise to superpower status," Ye said. "Any nation on the rise first has to establish its superpower status in its own region."
But Yang and Zheng said it is in neither side's interest to see relations cool any further.
"For them to be in opposition to each other won't benefit either of them," Zheng said. "
'Xi won't waver'
And Sweden-based writer Zhang Yu, secretary of the Independent Chinese PEN group, said Xi is modeling his political image on late supreme leader Mao Zedong.
"He is full of confidence and won't waver; he's very aggressive," Zhang said. "They're not on the defensive now: they're on the attack."
Zhang said China is now demanding equal treatment with the U.S.
"Xi Jinping is pretty powerful right now, launching campaigns left, right and center at home...as well as on the world stage," he said.
"Perhaps he's being a bit too presumptuous."
The U.S. team, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, named climate change and emissions controls as a key issue for negotiations, however.
Obama will travel to Beijing in November when it hosts a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders.
Xie Zhenhua, vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, told reporters that Beijing was working on setting its targets.
"In terms of responding to climate change we share common but differentiated responsibilities," Xie said, in a reference to Beijing's insistence on lower emissions caps, as a developing nation.
Earlier, Kerry also sought to reassure Beijing once again that Washington doesn't wish to contain China.
"We welcome the emergence of a peaceful, stable, prosperous China that contributes to the stability and development of the region and chooses to play a responsible role in world affairs", he said.
Reported by Yang Jiadai and Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service and Ho Shan from the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.