China accused the United States of creating an "imaginary enemy", adding that it was unqualified to level criticism on human rights at a meeting on Monday with the second-ranking US diplomat.
The United States "wants to reignite the sense of national purpose by establishing China as an 'imaginary enemy'," Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng said at the meeting with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, state television reported.
Sherman arrived in the eastern city of Tianjin for talks with Xie and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday, a day after Wang had warned that China would not accept the United States taking a "superior" position in the relationship, reports Reuters.
On Saturday, senior US officials had outlined Sherman's expected position during the talks, saying the United States welcomed competition with Beijing but would insist on a level playing field and "guardrails" to avoid conflicts.
The US government and lawmakers have been openly critical of China's policy in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, with the US Senate having passed this month a bill to ban imports from the far western region, citing forced labour concerns.
The tense back-and-forth comes amid already frayed relations between Beijing and Washington that have worsened in the months since an initial diplomatic meeting in March, the first under US President Joe Biden's administration. At the meeting in Alaska, Chinese officials railed against the state of US democracy, while US officials accused the Chinese side of grandstanding during the meeting.
Ties have continued to deteriorate since, with measures such as tit-for-tat sanctions and diplomatic barbs having overshadowed the Tianjin talks.
Sherman is expected to continue the talks on Monday before travelling to Geneva to head a US delegation at talks with Russia on Wednesday over nuclear arms control.