BEIJING — U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner met with a Chinese vice premier Thursday in a sign the two sides might be trying to cool their rhetoric in a dispute over China’s currency controls.

The Treasury Department did not say whether the two sides discussed currency. But Geithner had been expected to press Washington’s case for Beijing to ease exchange-rate controls that critics say keep China’s currency artificially low.

An undervalued Chinese currency makes Chinese goods cheaper for American consumers but hurts U.S. exporters by making their products more expensive in China.