President Xi Jinping told the top US diplomat that China was committed to enhancing dialogue and mutual trust with Washington despite growing tensions between Beijing and security allies of the United States.
In his talks with John Kerry, who is making his fifth Asia trip as US secretary of state, Xi struck a conciliatory tone, amid Washington's open opposition to China's declaration of an air defence identification zone in the East China Sea.
Xi told Kerry to tell US President Barack Obama that "China is firmly committed to building a new model of the China-US relationship together with the US side", Xinhua reported.
"We will continue to enhance dialogue, boost mutual trust and co-operation and properly handle differences in the new year so as to forge ahead with the lasting and healthy development of ties," Xi said.
Kerry, arriving in Beijing from Seoul, had a tough diplomatic mission. On one hand he was trying to prod Beijing to bring North Korea back to nuclear disarmament talks, but he also wants China to scale down its assertiveness over territorial disputes with its neighbours, particularly Japan and the Philippines.
But he was also upbeat after meetings with his hosts, saying the talks were constructive and the "tone was excellent". "There were some differences, but they're managed and handled, exactly as it should be," he said.
On North Korea, Kerry said China "could not have made it more clear" that denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula must occur, and had promised to take "additional steps" against Pyongyang if it was not serious about the initiative.
Jia Qingguo, a professor at Peking University, said "additional steps" might refer to joining future United Nations sanctions against Pyongyang.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China would never allow chaos or war in the Korean Peninsula, but called on all parties involved to be more "flexible" to create conditions to restart the stalled nuclear talks.
But signs of mistrust between the two powers remain. Wang called on Washington to respect China's sovereignty and not take sides in maritime disputes. And Kerry reiterated the US stance that China's air defence identification zone challenged regional stability.
Jin Canrong, an international relations professor at Renmin University of China, said Xi's reaffirmation of cultivating ties with the US reflected growing concerns about Washington aligning more closely with its Asian allies, and focusing less on China.