US defence chief Chuck Hagel called on China to use its "great power" responsibly on the eve of his arrival in Beijing today.
He said he would urge China to respect neighbours who are growing increasingly anxious over its stance on territorial disputes.
Hagel also announced in Tokyo yesterday that two US Navy destroyers equipped with missile defence systems would be deployed to Japan by 2017 amid increasing tensions with North Korea.
It will take the number of US warships in Japan to seven.
Watch: US to send two more anti-missile ships to Japan: Hagel
"Great powers have great responsibilities and China is a great power," he said after a meeting with Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera.
Hagel, making his first trip to China in his current role, said he wanted to talk to Beijing about its use of military power and to encourage transparency.
There is mounting concern in Tokyo over China's military build-up and its increasingly assertive posture in the territorial dispute over the Diaoyu Islands - called the Senkakus by Japan - in the East China Sea.
"I will be talking with the Chinese about their respect for their neighbours. Coercion and intimidation are very deadly things that lead only to conflict," he said.
He pointed to Russia's annexation of Crimea as the kind of action that will not be tolerated - a parallel that Japan has drawn previously over China's territorial challenges.
Hagel said: "You cannot go around the world and redefine boundaries and violate territorial integrity and the sovereignty of nations by force, collusion or intimidation, whether it's in small islands in the Pacific or in large nations in Europe."
He said he looked forward to having an honest, straightforward dialogue with the leaders in Beijing to talk about ways the two nations and their militaries can work better together.
Jia Qingguo, a professor of international relations at Peking University, said Hagel's remarks about China avoiding use of coercion and intimidation in territorial disputes was in line with the US stance that disputes should be resolved peacefully. "It may be simply that he thinks that, compared with a year or two ago, the heat of the disputes has given out a little, so a bit more policy transparency is needed," he said.
But Jia said Hagel was wrong to draw parallels between the Russian action in Crimea and the dispute over the Diaoyus.
"The US is quite reasonably concerned about countries forcibly seizing other countries' land after Russia took control of Crimea, but it shouldn't apply to the issues surrounding the Diaoyu Islands," he said.
Shi Yongming, a research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, said Hagel's drawing of a parallel between the Crimea annexation and the Diaoyus dispute showed the US stance towards the issue was hardening.
"Many American scholars have taken to drawing parallels between the two issues after what happened with Crimea, trying to show China in a bad light. That's a dangerous sign," he said.
"It's an unreasonable comparison. Crimea was a much divided region even before Russia tried to seize it. You cannot compare the two."
He added that the US was probably trying to use the territorial dispute as a tool to limit China's influence in the region, while maintaining its own influence.
Reuters, Associated Press