(AP, ABC7) - President Barack Obama assured China's heir apparent leader that the United States welcomes Beijing's rise in the world, saying Tuesday that strong cooperation between the two powers is beneficial to the rest of the world.
Obama offered a warm welcome to Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping amid sharp policy differences over Syria, Iran and economic issues, as well as longstanding U.S. concerns over Chinese human rights practices. The U.S. president said that the U.S.-Chinese relationship is based on "mutual interest and mutual respect."
Obama aides said the issues of contention would be on the table during Xi's unusually long and high-level visit to the United States, but there was no sign of discord during a brief joint appearance between Obama and Xi following their first-ever meeting.
"We welcome China's peaceful rise," Obama said as the two men sat in the Oval Office. "We believe that a strong and prosperous China is one that can help to bring stability and prosperity to the region and to the world." But, Obama said that with China's "expanding power" also "comes increased responsibility."
Obama said he looks forward to future cooperation.
A smiling Xi told Obama he wants to build on the past relationship between Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao. He said he wants to engage the American people to strengthen cooperation and "deepen the friendship" between the people of the two countries.
Xi's visit is being closely watched because he will likely lead China over the coming decade, but his remarks after his welcome by Vice President Joe Biden, who was also in the Oval Office during the meeting with Xi, did not deviate from customary diplomatic rhetoric.
Xi is slated to become China's Communist Party leader in the fall, and president in 2013. His visit offers Washington its first hard look at the man who is destined to lead the world's most populous nation in the coming decade, when the U.S. and China are likely to see their economic ties grow even as they are viewed increasingly as military rivals.
"We are not always going to see eye-to-eye. We are not always going to see things exactly the same, but we have very important economic and political concerns that warrant that we work together," Biden said, before talks began.
Xi is regarded as more personable than Hu. While Xi's trip is unlikely to herald any policy changes it may signal his leadership style.
In brief comments in response to Biden, a smiling Xi said it was his "great pleasure" to meet the vice president again, following his visit to China last August, and thanked him personally for his part in arranging the reciprocal visit.
Xi said he hoped his trip would build on the progress made by Obama and Hu during a state visit by China's president a year ago, in building a "cooperative partnership based on mutual respect and mutual benefit." He said he looked forward to having "an in-depth and candid exchange of views."
His visit will give the Obama administration a chance to press familiar issues with China, including its worsening treatment of dissidents, the unrest in Tibet and the vast U.S.-China trade imbalance.
Much of Xi's visit will be in the company of Biden, who went to China as Xi's guest in August.
Xi also will meet with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who will be hoping to inject some vigor into halfhearted ties between their two militaries. Washington will need to convince a skeptical Beijing that an adjustment in U.S. foreign policy to emphasize the economically booming Asia-Pacific region is not aimed at containing the rise of China - which, in turn, needs to convince the U.S. and many Asian nations that they need not fear its two-decade military buildup.