WASHINGTON -- President Obama welcomed Chinese President Hu Jintao to the White House on Wednesday morning in a formal ceremony marked by the fanfare reserved only for a visiting head of state.
The ceremony, held at the South Lawn of the White House, was the official welcome to Hu, who arrived Tuesday evening. The carefully choreographed ceremony began against the backdrop of music by a Navy brass band. In a display of unity, the South Portico of the White House was lined with alternating Chinese and American flags -- as was the portion of Pennsylvania Avenue adjacent to the White House. Even the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door, though under heavy construction, displayed the two countries' flags side by side.
With contingents from the U.S. Coast Guard, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Army gathered on the South Lawn, Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama -- he wearing a red tie and she wearing red gloves -- greeted Hu as his limousine arrived.
A 21-gun salute -- set off by cannons along Constitution Avenue -- was heard as the Chinese national anthem played. Obama and Hu greeted a small crowd of Chinese students and other guests, shaking hands along a rope line before making their remarks.
"The United States welcomes China's rise as a strong, prosperous and successful member of the community of nations," Obama said. "Indeed, China's success has brought with it economic benefits for our people as well as yours, and our cooperation on a range of issues has helped advance stability in the Asia Pacific and in the world."
Hu said his visit was intended to "increase mutual trust, enhance friendship, deepen cooperation and push forward the positive, cooperative and comprehensive China-U.S. relationship for the 21st century."
"Our cooperation as partners should be based on mutual respect," Hu said. "We live in an increasingly diverse and colorful world. China and the United States should respect each other's choice of development path and each other's core interests."
Wednesday, Hu will meet with the president and aides and hold a press conference with the president in the afternoon. He'll attend a black-tie state dinner in his honor Wednesday night, with a guest list that features prominent Chinese Americans. After meeting with congressional leaders and business executives Thursday, Hu will move on to Chicago for two days of meetings later in the week.
Hu's visit comes as China is growing as a political issue for both parties. Labor unions, other Democratic groups and some tea-party activists are unhappy with jobs heading overseas, while Republicans say Obama hasn't been tough enough on the foreign-policy front, seizing upon China's ownership of U.S. debt as a major national-security issue. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has been critical of China's human-rights record even as it has tried to make it a global economic partner and seek its help with anti-terrorism efforts.
Members of Congress from both parties this week threatened to impose tariffs and penalties on Chinese exports if the nation continues to manipulate its currency.
But these issues are unlikely to erupt into the open during Hu's visit, and in fact, little formal progress is expected to be made.
The visit marks the first state visit by a Chinese official since 1997. Hu visited Washington in 2006, but President George W. Bush held a "working lunch" with Hu rather than a state dinner, a move that some analysts say offended the Chinese government's sense of protocol. The Obama White House instead appears, this time around, to be taking no chances in that regard.