WASHINGTON (AP) — Touching on a key source of tension between the U.S. and China, President Barack Obama greeted Chinese President Hu Jintao on Wednesday by stressing the need for nations to observe universal human rights. Hu responded with a call for both countries to respect each other's core interests.
Yet in a sign of the growing economic bonds between the two superpowers, Obama announced at a news conference later that major business deals would mean $45 billion in new U.S. exports. He says the deals also will help create thousands of American jobs. The White House also said China was taking significant steps to curtail the theft of intellectual property and expand U.S. investment.
Obama welcomed Hu to the White House with full honors and a red-carpet greeting, marking the start of daylong meetings to address trade, security and human rights issues that have been the cause of past strain between the two powers.
"History shows that societies are more harmonious, nations are more successful and the world is more just when the rights and responsibilities of all nations and all peoples are upheld including the universal rights of every human being," Obama said in his remarks.
China's human rights’ policies have caused strains between the rival powers, with the U.S. calling on China to release jailed dissidents, including Nobel peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who was prevented from attending the Dec. 10 prize ceremony in the Norwegian capital.
Obama's tone was nonetheless friendly, welcoming China's rise as a global economic force. "We have an enormous stake in each other's success," he said.
Hu said the relationship between the two counties has grown to one of "strategic significance and global influence."
But he pointedly added: "China and the United States should respect each other's choice of development paths and each other's core interests."
The state visit marked Hu's first trip to the U.S. since 2006, when his arrival ceremony was marred by protocol blunders including an outburst from a protester from the Falun Gong spiritual sect. No such missteps occurred Wednesday.
It follows an up and down two years in which an assertive China initially cold-shouldered the U.S. on climate change, did little to reel in its unpredictable ally North Korea and responded limply to U.S. pleas to mitigate trade imbalances. For its part, the U.S. riled China by selling arms to Taiwan and inviting the Dalai Lama to the White House.
Both sides are now setting a more positive tone.
Hu pulled up to the White House portico on Wednesday as part of a highly choreographed arrival, complete with welcomes from the president, Vice President Joe Biden and their wives and a long line of Cabinet members and Chinese dignitaries.
Obama and Hu stood at attention as a military band played both national anthems. The Chinese anthem was properly announced as that of the "People's Republic of China," avoiding another gaffe committed during Hu's 2006 visit, when an announcer mistakenly used the official name of Taiwan.
The two leaders inspected troops on the White House South Lawn. They then approached a rope line where they shook hands and greeted a group of children and young people holding Chinese and U.S. flags, including Obama's 9-year-old daughter, Sasha. The students all attend Washington area schools with programs in China studies and Chinese language.
Obama and Biden then met with Hu in the Oval Office ahead of an expanded meeting that will include their respective staffs. At the top of the meeting, as the two leaders waited for photographers to capture the usual Oval Office handshake, Obama was overheard engaging in a typical conversation ice breaker: The weather.
"This is very typical January weather here in Washington," Obama explained to his guest.
The president also will host a session with Hu, Chinese business leaders and 14 leading American chief executives, many of whom are seeking greater openness from China. Illustrating the political implications of the trade issue, a bipartisan coalition of 84 House members announced it had sent Obama a letter urging him to get tough with the Chinese president over what the lawmakers called China's consistent violations of international trade law.
Later in the afternoon, the two leaders plan a brief news conference — an uncommon practice for Hu — limited to four questions. Hu will then be honored at a State Department luncheon.
The ceremonial highlight of the visit will be a lavish, pomp-filled state dinner Wednesday evening.