US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused China of acting more aggressively abroad and more repressively at home.
He said in an interview with CBS News the US did not want to hold China down but would not allow it to undermine the rules-based international order.
He noted that a military confrontation was profoundly against the interests of both countries.
Tensions have soared in recent times over trade, espionage and the pandemic.
The China-US relationship is crucial to both sides and the wider world, with Beijing repeatedly calling on the new administration in Washington to improve relations which deteriorated under President Joe Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump.