(Reuters) - China warned the United States not to get involved in South China Sea territorial disputes on Tuesday as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Beijing pledging to pass on a strong message on the need to calm regional tension.

U.S. officials say Clinton will stress the importance of cooperation and partnership on the visit, an important chance to compare notes during a year of political transition in both countries.

But her visit has been overshadowed by disputes over tiny islets and craggy outcrops in oil- and gas-rich areas of the South and East China Seas that have set China against U.S. regional allies such as the Philippines and Japan.

Clinton arrived in Beijing from Jakarta late on Tuesday, huddling with U.S. officials on board her plane before heading off to meetings with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi followed by a dinner.

In their brief public remarks, both Clinton and Yang stressed a constructive tone, with Clinton calling the U.S.-China relationship key to the Obama administration's "pivot" to more engagement with the Asia-Pacific.

Despite sometimes bitter commentary in China's state-run media, Yang pledged that Beijing would continue to work with Washington to forge "a new type of major country relationship".

"China stands ready to work with the U.S. side, guided by the joint vision of our two presidents, to further push forward the China-U.S. cooperative partnership based on mutual respect and mutual benefit," Yang said.

But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei suggested at an earlier news briefing that Washington has not been a helpful force in the maritime disputes, suggesting Clinton may face some push back in Wednesday's talks.

"We have noted that the United States has stated many times that it does not take sides," he said when asked about the U.S. role. "We hope that the United States will abide by its promises and do more that is beneficial to regional peace and stability, and not the opposite."