WASHINGTON — A top Chinese military officer met with US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter at the Pentagon on Thursday, but Beijing asked for limited media attention around the visit amid strains over the South China Sea.

Carter had invited Gen. Fan Changlong, vice-chairman of China's Central Military Commission, to the Pentagon but unlike some previous trips, including one last year, there was no joint press conference.

"The Chinese did request that there not be a lot of media attention around this trip," Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said, without giving further details.

Carter and other top US officials have recently castigated China over its push to build artificial islands in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

At a recent security conference in Singapore, Carter called for an immediate end to land reclamation by countries in the region, and accused China of being out of step with international rules.

Prior to visiting Washington, Fan went to California and Texas. His trip is part of a years-long effort to build a regular dialogue between the American and Chinese armed forces to defuse potential tensions and avoid miscalculations.

"We here in the Pentagon are very happy to be hosting our Chinese counterparts," Warren said.

"They'll discuss areas of mutual interest, things we need to discuss," he added.

Carter's predecessor, Chuck Hagel, paid a visit to China in 2014 in a trip that was marked by friction, with each side trading sharply worded criticism.