Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with China's top diplomat, Wang Yi, on Thursday, the first day of his three-day visit to Washington.
Wang acknowledged that China and the United States have "disagreements" and "differences" but said the two countries "share important common interests and we face challenges that we need to respond to together," according to a translation of remarks delivered alongside Blinken on Thursday at the State Department.
"I'm sure that our discussion will be constructive and forward-looking," Wang added, per his translator.
"I agree with what the foreign minister said," Blinken said as he shook Wang's hand.
The high-level talks come just weeks before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco, a potential venue for a face-to-face between President Joe Biden and China's President Xi Jinping.
Wang is expected to speak with Biden when he visits the White House on Friday, according to a U.S. official.
While there is no shortage of issues in the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and China for the officials to delve into, the conflict in the Middle East is expected to weigh heavily on the agenda.
Officials anticipated that both Blinken and Sullivan would "push the Chinese to take a more constructive approach" when it comes to its stance on the Israel-Hamas war, but China -- which has reportedly stationed warships in the region following Hamas' Oct. 7 terrorist attack against Israel -- shows no willingness to align itself more closely with the West on the matter.
At the United Nations Security Council, China joined Russia in vetoing a U.S. resolution affirming Israel's right to defend itself while calling for humanitarian pauses on Wednesday, while voting in favor of a Russian resolution urging a ceasefire that failed to condemn Hamas, which the U.S. had designated a terrorist organization.
The importance of "sustained" military-to-military communications between the U.S. and China are also expected to be a critical focus during Wang's time in Washington, American officials said.
Blinken said he raised the issue "repeatedly" during his visit to Beijing in June but was dismissed. He vowed the U.S. would "keep working on" revitalizing those channels, but so far there is no evidence the situation has improved.
The importance of such communication in avoiding escalation was underscored on Sunday, when Chinese vessels undertook "dangerous and unlawful actions" to obstruct a Philippine resupply mission in the South China Sea, according to the Biden administration.
"By conducting dangerous maneuvers that caused collisions with Philippine resupply and Coast Guard ships, the [People's Republic of China] Coast Guard and maritime militia violated international law by intentionally interfering with the Philippine vessels' exercise of high seas freedom of navigation," State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller asserted.
During a press availability on Wednesday, Biden vowed that his administration would uphold its commitment to a 1951 mutual defense agreement with the Philippines if the nation came under attack.
"I want to be clear. I want to be very clear. The United States defense commitment to the Philippines is ironclad," he said.
Biden also portrayed China as operating from a position of weakness.
"We're going to compete with China in every way," he said. "China is having their own internal and external difficulties right now. China's economic growth is stagnant compared to what it was."
But House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and Subcommittee on the Indo-Pacific Chairwoman Young Kim, R-Calif., argued that hosting Wang is a sign of what they argue is the administration's weak strategy for reining in China.
"Wang Yi's visit to DC is the first time a Chinese Foreign Minister has visited the United States since 2019. Unfortunately, we have seen the Chinese Communist Party become increasingly aggressive during that time period," the lawmakers said in a statement.
"From its military aggression against Taiwan and the Philippines, to arbitrarily detaining American citizens like Mark Swidan and holding political prisoners, to coercing countries into debt trap infrastructure projects, the CCP has made clear that it is an unreliable partner," they added. "During its meetings with Wang Yi, the Biden administration should not fall for false promises but demand deliverables such as releasing Americans taken hostage in China, stopping the export of fentanyl precursors, and halting its military expansionism in the Indo-Pacific."
In July, the U.S. recommended Americans reconsider travel to China, citing arbitrary law enforcement and exit bans and the risk of wrongful detentions.
The U.S. in October announced a crackdown on the fentanyl trafficking threat, indicting and sanctioning several Chinese companies and executives who officials said imported the chemicals used to make the synthetic opioid. Attorney General Merrick Garland noted that "this global fentanyl supply chain, which ends with the deaths of Americans, often starts with chemical companies in China.”
Xi is instructing his military to "be ready by 2027" to invade Taiwan, according to U.S. intelligence.
ABC’s Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.