WASHINGTON –Standing shoulder to shoulder with President Obama at the White House, Chinese President Hu Jintao acknowledged Wednesday that “a lot still needs to be done in China on human rights,” but at the same time he cautioned the U.S. against interference in his nation’s internal affairs.

“China is willing to have exchanges and dialogue with the United States on the basis of mutual respect and the principle of noninterference in each other’s internal affairs,” said Hu. “In this way we will be able to further increase our mutual understanding, reduce our disagreements, and expand our common ground.”


Several hundred protesters line the curb across from the White House asking President Obama to seek justice for the people in Tibet. (Photo by Amanda Bossard/ Medill News Service)

Just hours before an elaborate state dinner to climax Hu’s two days of high profile talks with U.S. officials, the two leaders sought to emphasize progress in bolstering their nations’ sometimes strained relations.

“Together we’ve shown that the United States and China, when we cooperate can receive substantial benefits,” said Obama. “The positive, cooperative and constructive U.S.-China relationship is good for the United States.”

At a joint press conference Wednesday, Obama announced that China plans to purchase more than $45 billion in U.S. exports in a variety of areas that include aviation, telecommunications, agriculture and computer software. The president said the deal could create an estimated 235,000 U.S. jobs.

Obama touched upon the sensitive issue of human rights during Hu’s formal welcoming ceremony Wednesday morning, saying “nations are more successful, and the world is more just when the rights and responsibilities of all nations and all people are upheld.”

Later, at the joint press appearance, he said differences on human rights need not prevent progress in other areas. “We can engage and discuss these issues in a frank and candid way, focus on those areas where we agree, while acknowledging that there will be areas where we disagree.”

Obama and Hu vowed to work together in order to eliminate threats from North Korea and Iran, as well as aim to alleviate the ecological strains that both energy powerhouses impose on the planet.

Obama formally welcomed the Chinese President with a 21-gun salute and a fife and drum corps on the White House South Lawn.

President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates were among those present. Speaking at a service filled with pomp and ceremony, both presidents maintained that improved relations were key for their nation’s future.

“Over the past 32 years since the establishment of diplomatic ties, the China-U.S. relationship has grown into one with strategic significance and global influence,” said Hu. “Our cooperation in various fields has produced fruitful results and our relations have achieved new progress. This has brought real benefits to our two peoples and contributes greatly to world peace and development.”

As the two men met inside, protesters lined the sidewalk outside the White House to denounce Chinese policies toward Tibet, Taiwan and East Turkestan.

The day will end with an elaborate state dinner for China, marking the third time Obama has held such an event during his presidency. The last time the White House held a state dinner for a Chinese leader was 13 years ago, when then President Bill Clinton hosted former Chinese President Jiang Zemin.