In remarks after high-level political and economic talks, the United States said it was disappointed that Chinese authorities did not send Snowden, on the run in Hong Kong, back to face US justice.
"We were disappointed with how the authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong handled the Snowden case, which undermined our effort to build the trust needed to manage difficult issues," US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns said.
China's State Councilor Yang Jiechi said Hong Kong's actions were in accordance with the law. "Its approach is beyond reproach," he said about the decision to not detain Snowden.
The disagreement soured the two-day US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue meetings in Washington.
Snowden left Hong Kong for Moscow, where he is believed to be stuck in the transit area of the city's international airport, amid speculation he might board a flight to travel to Latin America where he has been offered asylum.
The US government has charged Snowden with disclosing details about secret US surveillance programs the Obama administration considers vital for national security.