President Barack Obama and President Hu Jintao of China begin their working dinner in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House, Jan. 18, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

WASHINGTON — Chinese President Hu Jintao comes to town this week with all the sentiment of cooperation, even as U.S. officials prepare to confront the leader on issues around defense, currency and human rights.

Hu arrived Tuesday at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, and was greeted by Vice President Joe Biden to kick off his three-day state visit — the first state visit for China since 1997.

President Barack Obama will host a state dinner for Hu Wednesday night, with a guest list including celebrities, CEOs and Cabinet officials.

As the two giants sit down at the dinner table, the visit signals a broader recognition by the White House of China’s rise to international prominence and American interest in maintaining a friendly relationship with the growing superpower.

“This is [Obama’s] third state dinner,” Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said on Tuesday. “Two out of the three — India and now China — are in the fastest growing region of the world.”

The administration has been stressing the need for cooperation in all its public comments on the Chinese leader’s visit.

“This is a dynamic region of the world and one that needs the full engagement of the United States of America,” Gibbs added.

Wednesday will start with an arrival ceremony featuring a 21-gun salute on the South Lawn of the White House. Hu will stay in the Blair House during his visit.

Hu visited President George W. Bush in 2006, though it was a called an “official visit,” a less prestigious honor and one that did not include dinner. The Chinese did not take the slight well, especially with the context of tensions over trade and human rights.

While the administration is rolling out the red carpet, top officials have said they are ready to assert their concerns about the China’s policies.

Notably, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized its past record on human rights, raising the controversial case of the imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner also called on China to allow its artificially devalued currency to gain value, which would lessen the trade imbalance that has grown in recent years between the two countries as China’s currency, the renminbi, beats the higher-valued dollar in the world market.

Issues that could be contentious will be discussed privately by Hu and Obama with the help of interpreters Tuesday evening, before the two leaders address reporters in a joint press conference Wednesday.

The week’s events represent increasing U.S. respect for a country that many deem ready to catch up with, if not surpass, the U.S. in this century.

First though, Hu will have face his American critics. In a rare written response to interview questions posed by The New York Times, he emphasized their common interests.

“China and the United States have major influence in international affairs and shoulder important responsibilities in upholding world peace and promoting common development,” Hu said.