Chinese President Xi Jinping has arrived in Washington for talks with US President Barack Obama. Key themes are expected to be Chinese cyber spying, economic policies and the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Washington rolled out the red carpet for President Xi on Thursday evening, hastily replacing Vatican banners in front of the White House with Chinese flags.
The Chinese president was greeted at Andrews Air Force Base by United States Vice President Joe Biden soon after Pope Francis left the US capital for New York. Xi stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Biden as a band played the US and Chinese national anthems.
A private working dinner between Xi and Obama was scheduled at the Blair House, the official US guest residence across the road from the presidential mansion. Washington officials said key issues of division would start to be addressed at the low-key meal.
The two leaders took an informal walk to the dining venue from the White House's West Wing.
The full pageantry of a state visit was to be reserved for Friday, when Xi will be given a 21-gun salute, and a formal summit and news conference will take place before a black-tie state dinner. Meanwhile, US first lady Michelle Obama was scheduled to take Xi's wife Peng Liyuan to the National Zoo to see the giant pandas.
Pressure to 'open up'
Obama is also expected to urge Xi to put into effect economic reforms that would make the Chinese economy more open to foreign competition. The US president is also thought likely to address China's increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea, where Beijing has been staging a military build up and land reclamation exercise.
The issue of human rights could also find its way onto the agenda, but is not expected to be central. Protests are expected outside the White House from rights groups, Falun Gong supporters and "Free Tibet" campaigners.
Before arriving in Washington, Xi spent two days in Seattle, stressing the need for good economic and commercial relations between the two countries.
"China will open up still wider to the outside world: without reform there will be no driving force, without opening up there will be no progress," he told a roundtable meeting with CEOS from 15 major US corporations.
rc/lw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)