BEIJING - China's top diplomat has defended Pakistan's "important role" in Afghanistan in a phone call with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, after President Trump accused Islamabad of harbouring militants.

Trump, in unveiling his Afghanistan strategy this week, said Pakistan was playing a double game by accepting American aid while giving safe haven to insurgents who kill Afghan and NATO troops.

But China State Councillor Yang Jiechi told Tillerson Wednesday that "we should attach importance to the important role that Pakistan plays in the Afghanistan issue, respect (Pakistan's) sovereignty and legitimate security concerns," according to a foreign ministry statement.

It is the second time Beijing has defended its South Asian neighbour this week, with foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying praising Pakistan on Tuesday for making "great sacrifices and contributions to fighting terrorism".

Beijing is investing around $50 billion in Pakistan as part of a plan unveiled in 2015 to link its far-western Xinjiang region to the Pakistani port of Gwadar in Balochistan province.

Yang said Beijing was committed to "advancing the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan" and that political dialogue was "the only way to solve the Afghanistan problem".

He added that "China would like to continue to maintain communication and coordination on the Afghanistan problem with the US side".

Yang, who outranks China’s foreign minister, told Tillerson that China was willing to coordinate with the United States on Afghanistan and make joint efforts to realise peace and stability there and in the region.

The call between the US and Chinese diplomats came after new tensions arose between the two powers on Wednesday as Washington slapped sanctions on Chinese companies accused of links with North Korea, angering Beijing.

China has also warned Washington against triggering any "trade war" after Trump ordered an investigation into Beijing's intellectual property practices. But the ministry statement issued late Wednesday did not say whether Tillerson and Yang discussed the trade issue, the sanctions or the North Korean nuclear crisis.

Yang said Washington and Beijing communicate and cooperate on a "wide range of areas" and the two diplomats discussed Trump's planned visit to China later this year.

He also voiced hope that the two sides maintain "mutual respect" and "handle disputes properly and jointly to uphold the good momentum of development of Sino-US relations."

CHINA SLAMS INDIAN ROAD

PROJECT ON BORDER

China slammed India Thursday over a report that it plans to build a road in territory disputed between the two countries, after weeks of tension elsewhere along the border.

India's newly approved road project will run through the disputed Ladakh region close to Pangong Lake, the country's Hindustan Times reported Tuesday. A separate Chinese attempt to build a road in the Doklam area - which is disputed between China and Bhutan - has prompted a standoff between hundreds of Indian and Chinese soldiers which has lasted for more than two months.

"The Indian side is closely following China's road building recently, but the Indian's actions themselves have proven that the Indian side says one thing and does another," Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing.

She said the reported decision to build a road in Ladakh is "in complete contradiction to its deeds in terms of the border issues".

"The current road construction in that area by the Indian side is not conducive to peace and stability in that area."

A video surfaced last week of a brawl between Chinese and Indian soldiers near the Ladakh area, which is over 4,000 metres above sea level on the Tibetan plateau and is a popular tourist attraction.

China and India have a number of border disputes and went to war in 1962 over the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.

In 2014 hundreds of Indian and Chinese troops faced off across the de facto border known as the Line of Actual Control that runs along the northwest Indian region of Ladakh.

The latest standoff began in mid-June after Chinese troops started building a road on Doklam plateau.

India has an army base nearby and moved soldiers into the flashpoint zone to halt the work, prompting Beijing to accuse it of trespassing on Chinese soil.

China has repeatedly said India must withdraw its troops before any proper negotiation on the dispute takes place. India said the two sides should withdraw their forces simultaneously.