U.S. Vice President Joe Biden made a forceful call for China to stop cyber theft, during 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.
Biden's speech also stressed areas of common interest, but did not ignore 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, stabler and more innovative if it respects 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 is ready to discuss rights, but only on the basis of "equality and mutual respect." Vice Premier Wang Yang stressed Beijing cannot accept views that undermine its political system.
China analyst Scott Kennedy with Indiana University tells VOA there are no signs that China's new Communist Party leaders are interested in political reforms.
"This new leadership, although quite progressive potentially in terms of economic reform, I think they still have the same outlook for the political system as their predecessors did," he said.
Some rights groups had called for Obama administration to publicly raise rights concerns, such as China's treatment of government critics, restrictions on free speech, and policies in ethnic areas such as Tibet.
Thursday's agenda includes discussion 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.
Although analysts expected the meetings to produce few tangible results, the two sides were able to agree Wednesday on greater cooperation to reduce greenhouse gases and air pollution.
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.
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 leaks by ex-U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed alleged widespread U.S. cyber espionage on Chinese targets.
The White House has argued that there is a difference spying for intelligence-gathering purposes and spying for economic and commercial gain. Economist Gary Hufbauer of the Washington-based Peterson Institute tells VOA it is unclear whether China accepts this difference.
"I think they understand there's a distinction, but I think they tend to blur it, because they see a company like Lockheed Martin or Boeing as part of the U.S. military effort and therefore fair game for cyber espionage," he said.
U.S. and Chinese officials say they reached an agreement at the working group meeting to expand cooperation on cyber security. But Hufbauer said he expects progress to be slow on the issue.