Obama, Hu Discuss Economic Ties, Human Rights

Chinese President Hu Jintao got the full ceremonial welcome at the White House on Wednesday, with a color guard and a 21-gun salute. In meetings Wednesday, the two leaders discussed issues of trade, currency, human rights and China's growing military ambitions — with President Obama trying a somewhat tougher tone with Hu.

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China's President Hu Jintao got the full ceremonial welcome at the White House today, including a color guard 21-gun salute and a state dinner later this evening. In terms of substance, President Obama and President Hu discussed a range of issues from trade and currency to human rights and China's growing military ambitions.

As NPR's Mara Liasson reports, there was at least one noticeable difference between this visit and the two leaders' previous meetings.

MARA LIASSON: President Obama welcomed Hu to the White House saying the two countries have an enormous stake in each other's futures. But in contrast to the relatively gentle tone he and his secretary of state had adopted in their earlier encounters with Chinese leaders - an approach the administration now feels achieved little result - the president made sure that as he was rolling out the red carpet, he was also prodding China more forcefully on its human rights record.

President BARACK OBAMA: 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 people are upheld, including the universal rights of every human being.

LIASSON: Hu, speaking through a translator during the arrival ceremony, pushed back.

President HU JINTAO (China): (through translator) Our cooperation as partners should be based on mutual respect. We live in an increasingly diverse and colorful world. China and United States should respect each other's choice of development paths and each other's core interests.

LIASSON: And that, in a very polite, diplomatic way, means back off. But, later in the press conference with the president, Hu was more conciliatory. When asked to justify China's human rights record, he repeated the basic Chinese line about the principle of non-interference in each other's internal affairs, but also said this, again through a translator.

Pres. JINTAO: (through translator) China is a developing country with a huge population and also a developing country in a crucial stage of reform. In this context, China still faces many challenges in economic and social development. And a lot still needs to be done in China in terms of human rights. We will continue our efforts to improve the lives of the Chinese people and we'll continue our efforts to promote democracy and the rule of law in our country.

LIASSON: President Obama hit a series of points touting business deals hammered out with China that he said would lead to $45 billion in new export sales and create 235,000 American jobs. But he also said China is not moving fast enough to a market-based currency. And he pointed out other impediments China has erected to foreign products and foreign investment.

Pres. OBAMA: I did also stress to President Hu that there has to be a level playing field for American companies competing in China, that trade has to be fair. So I welcomed his commitment that American companies will not be discriminated against when they compete for Chinese government procurement contracts. And I appreciate his willingness to take new steps to combat the theft of intellectual property.

LIASSON: And the president summed up the bottom line in the American/Chinese relationship this way: we want to sell you all kinds of stuff, Mr. Obama said. We want to sell you planes, we want to sell you cars, we want to sell you software. The two leaders continue their discussions at a state dinner tonight.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.

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