Human rights groups and lawmakers are urging the Obama administration to take a tough stance Wednesday during annual high-level talks with Chinese officials in Washington.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew are heading the U.S. delegation at the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. The Chinese side is represented by State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Vice Premier Wang Yang.
The dialogue, now in its fifth year, is a regular opportunity for Washington and Beijing to discuss, and sometimes square off on, issues of both cooperation and disagreement between the world's two largest economies.
Ahead of the two-day talks, there were calls for the U.S. to prominently raise concerns about China's human rights record - a particularly sensitive topic for Beijing.
New York-based Human Rights Watch says the U.S. should hold China accountable for what it calls a "lack of progress" on areas, such as its treatment of government critics, restrictions on free speech, and policies in ethnic areas.
A bipartisan group of top U.S. lawmakers also called for the U.S. to press China on a wide range of economic issues, including protecting intellectual property and ensuring that China opens its markets up to further foreign competition.
The statement was signed by leading U.S. lawmakers who are influential on trade policy, including Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Democrat, and the committee's ranking Republican, Orrin Hatch.
Even before the dialogue officially began, U.S. and Chinese officials held high-level talks on cyber security -- another area of disagreement between the two world powers.
Chinese state media reported Wednesday that the first-ever working group on cyber security went well, with both sides "candidly" discussing the matter and agreeing to expand cooperation.
U.S. officials say they raised the issue of economic-related hacking during the session. They also said the two sides discussed international norms for cyber space.
Washington and Beijing have recently traded accusations of cyber hacking attacks. The issue has threatened to become a major irritant in bilateral relations.
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 spying for intelligence-gathering purposes and spying for economic and commercial gain.