China could play a "positive, constructive" role at the United Nations on a resolution to rein in Syria's chemical weapons, according to the top US diplomat.
US Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged at the start of talks with Foreign Minister Wang Yi that the two sides had "disagreed sharply" over the global response to Syria's use of chemical arms.
Beijing, like Washington, is a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN Security Council. In the past, it has blocked resolutions seeking to condemn the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during the brutal civil war now in its third year.
"With negotiations ongoing at the Security Council, we look forward to China playing a positive, constructive, important role," Kerry said on Thursday.
In response, Wang pledged that Beijing would "play an active and constructive role" and added that it was ready for "in-depth" talks on all issues, including Syria, "with an open mind". Beijing has already welcomed a Russian-US framework hammered out in Geneva last week, under which Assad would surrender his chemical weapons stockpile to international control.
"While we appreciate China's support for a political solution - the only solution we believe is ultimately available and possible - we do have differences … and have disagreed sharply over how the international community should respond to the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons," Kerry said as the two men began their talks.
Wang said there was now "strong momentum" in Sino-US ties and he had come to Washington "to push forward building the new model of major-country relationship ... with concrete actions and ... co-operation".
Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping agreed at their meeting in June in California to develop a new model of relations between the world's two largest economies.
"We look forward to making non-conflict and non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win co-operation cover all aspects of the Sino-US relationship to bring benefits to both our countries and beyond," said Wang, according to a statement from the Foreign Ministry.
Wang and Kerry would also discuss ways to relaunch stalled six-party talks over North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, as well as climate change and cybersecurity.
Wang later told journalists that they also discussed Taiwan issues, which he described as "controllable". Wang was the minister in charge of Taiwan affairs before he was appointed foreign minister in a major cabinet reshuffle in March.
Wang was confident that a "new, important agreement" could be reached on how to resume talks aimed at getting Pyongyang to halt its suspected nuclear weapons programme.
Kerry said Thursday's talks reflected the US commitment to strengthening ties to both China and the Asia-Pacific region and to avoid "falling into a trap of seeing one another as strategic rivals".
"Importantly, part of our new relationship is a commitment to engage in frank discussions on sensitive issues, particularly where we disagree - where misunderstanding could lead to a miscalculation," Kerry said.
Agence France-Presse, Associated Press