US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is meeting with China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang in Beijing at the start of two days of talks with Chinese officials.
US officials say the main goal of the talks is to stabilise a relationship that has become extremely tense.
It comes nearly five months after an earlier Blinken visit was postponed, following the flight of a suspected Chinese spy balloon in US airspace.
Mr Qin greeted Mr Blinken on Sunday at the Diaoyutai State Guest House, a lavish estate that typically hosts visiting dignitaries.
The two shook hands as they stood before their respective flags, then sat down with their delegations at long tables to begin their meetings.
The greeting was business-like, underscoring the chilly relations that have developed between the two superpowers in recent years.
The US has been lowering expectations for the trip and both sides have made clear they do not expect any major breakthrough.
The goal, US officials say, is to reopen lines of high-level communication and stabilise relations that have become strained since the balloon incident.
China has staged military exercises near Taiwan, which Beijing views as an integral part of China. The US maintains close ties with Taiwan’s democratically-elected government.
There is a full agenda, including meetings with Qin Gang and senior Chinese foreign policy official Wang Yi.
The war in Ukraine, trade disputes over advanced computer technologies, the fentanyl drug epidemic in the US and Chinese human rights conduct are all topics the Americans expect to be discussed.
Chinese officials have reacted coolly to Mr Blinken’s visit, questioning whether the US is sincere in its efforts to mend relations.
It is not clear whether he will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Mr Blinken is the highest-ranking US government official to visit China since President Joe Biden took office in January 2021.
“If we want to make sure, as we do, that the competition that we have with China doesn’t veer into conflict, the place you start is with communicating,” Mr Blinken told reporters on Friday.
Later he said he hoped to meet President Xi in the next few months.
A meeting between President Biden and Xi Jinping in Bali in November briefly eased fears of a new Cold War, but since the balloon incident high-level communication between the two leaders has been rare.