Xi Jinping, expected to become China's top leader in the fall, said he hoped to deepen China's friendship with the U.S., as he made his first visit to the White House on a trip both sides hope will set relations on a new footing for the next decade.
President Barack Obama called the visit a "great opportunity" for the U.S. and China to build their relationship, even as he cautioned that China must play by the same economic rules as the rest of the world and pushed Mr. Xi to recognize the "aspirations and rights of all people."
The two shook hands twice, and Mr. Xi smiled several times from his chair beside the U.S. president.
Speaking through an interpreter, Mr. Xi said he hoped to "strengthen consensus" and "deepen our friendship."
"I look forward to an in-depth and candid exchange of views and shared interests," Mr. Xi said.
It was back-to-back meetings Tuesday morning for the Chinese leader—first with Vice President Joe Biden and an array of U.S. Cabinet officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, then a smaller session with the vice president, and then the Oval Office meeting with Mr. Obama.
At the start of his meeting with Mr. Xi, Mr. Obama said the U.S. "welcomes China's peaceful rise," but said that "with expanding power and prosperity also comes increased responsibilities."
"We want to work with China to make sure everyone is working with the same rules of the road when it comes to the world economic system, and that includes ensuring that there is a balanced trade flow," Mr. Obama said. "It also means that on critical issues like human rights we will continue to emphasize what we believe is the importance of recognizing the aspirations and rights of all people."
U.S. officials see Mr. Xi's trip as a rare opportunity for officials, lawmakers and business leaders to get to know the man who is expected to be promoted to Communist Party chief—the nation's top job—in a once-a-decade leadership change in October or November.
After meeting with officials, politicians and CEOs in Washington, Mr. Xi is due to visit the small city of Muscatine in Iowa for a reunion with a family he stayed with during a visit there as a junior party official in 1985. He may also watch an NBA game in Los Angeles on the last day of his trip on Friday.
Looking ahead to that portion of his trip, Mr. Xi said he hoped to "engage with a broad cross section of the American people."
Mr. Obama mentioned the Los Angeles Lakers game and said, "I'm glad you're going to have an opportunity to get out of Washington."
For his part, Mr. Biden welcomed Mr. Xi and his entire delegation and he hoped to extend to Mr. Xi the same hospitality he experienced during his four-day visit to China in August.
"This bilateral relationship is one of the most important in the world," Mr. Biden said. "Your visit helps sustain a high level of dialogue between our two countries."
"We are not always going to see eye to eye," Mr. Biden said. "But it is a sign of strength and maturity in our relationship that we can talk cordially about our differences."
He added: "The American people are looking forward to getting to know you."
Outside the White House, meanwhile, about 200 Tibetan activists gathered for a second day, waving Tibetan flags and chanting slogans, to protest against Chinese policies in Tibet, which they blame for a series of self-immolations by ethnic Tibetans over the last year.
The latest case occurred on Monday, when a 19-year-old Tibetan monk set himself ablaze in the ethnic Tibetan Aba region of western China, according to the International Campaign for Tibet. China's state-run Xinhua news agency also reported the self-immolation, but said he was 18.
The Tibetan protesters outside the White House were joined by a few dozen supporters of the Democratic Party of China and the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is banned in China. There were also several hundred Chinese supporters of Mr. Xi, waving Chinese flags and shouting "Go China!"
Chinese Embassy officials were not immediately available to comment about Mr Xi's meetings, or the protests.
But China's premier, Wen Jiabao, on Tuesday became the most senior Chinese leader yet to respond publicly to the recent self-immolations.
"We respect and protect Tibet's ecological environment and traditional culture, and respect and protect religious freedom in Tibet," he said at a news conference during a European Union-China summit in Beijing.
"Any attempt to incite a small number of monks to take extreme acts to undermine stability in Tibet is not in the interests of development in Tibetan areas or the interests of Tibetans. Such attempt has no popular support."
Xinhua quoted Mr. Xi telling a group of former senior U.S. officials on Monday evening that he hoped the U.S. would respect China's "core interests" and not allow its presidential election to hamper the development of relations with China.
The former U.S. officials at Monday evening's meeting included former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright, former national-security advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft and Sandy Berger, and former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.
"We hope the U.S. side could view China in an objective and rational way, and adopt concrete measures to promote mutual trust, especially to properly and discreetly handle the issues concerning the core interests of China," he said.
China's defines its core interests as issues on which it will not compromise and is ready to use military force if necessary. The main ones are Taiwan and Tibet, both of which it sees as part of its territory.
U.S. officials have repeatedly expressed concern over the situation in Tibet in recent weeks and had indicated that the issue would be raised during Mr Xi's meeting at the White House.