China's President Xi Jinping.jpg
Photograph: EPA/IORI SAGISAWA/POOL

Chinese president Xi Jinping and US Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday attended the opening ceremony of high-level meetings in Beijing amid heightened tensions in the South China Sea. 

“Differences between China and the United States are quite normal ... so long as the two sides tackle differences and sensitive issues in the principle of mutual respect and quality,” Xinhua news agency cited Xi as saying at the ceremony.

“The broad Pacific Ocean should not become an arena for rivalry, but a big platform for inclusive cooperation,” Xi told delegates.

He was speaking at the joint opening ceremony of the eighth China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue and the seventh China-US High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange. 

High-ranking officials from the two countries are expected to discuss issues including advancing bilateral relations, improving cooperation on issues including climate change and managing areas of conflict within the two-day dialogues and consultations.

Tensions between US and China have risen as China has sought to assert its control in the face of competing territorial claims from countries in the region. 

China maintains claims to most of the South China Sea, which includes overlapping claims with Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

Several Chinese military deployments to the region have been reported in recent months, while the US has sent naval ships to conduct freedom of navigation operations through the Spratlys where China has reclaimed land for island-building.   

Washington takes no position over the competing claims, but says the issue should be resolved diplomatically and asserts the US right to freedom of the seas.  

The US side is also expected to press China to reduce excess production capacity which, particularly in the steel sector, poses an increasing threat to world economies.  

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