Obama and Biden then met with Hu in the Oval Office ahead of an expanded meeting that will include their respective staffs. At the top of the meeting, as the two leaders waited for photographers to capture the usual Oval Office handshake, Obama was overheard engaging in a typical conversation ice breaker: The weather.
"This is very typical January weather here in Washington," Obama explained to his guest.
The president also will host a session with Hu, Chinese business leaders and 14 leading American chief executives, many of whom are seeking greater openness from China. Illustrating the political implications of the trade issue, a bipartisan coalition of 84 House members announced it had sent Obama a letter urging him to get tough with the Chinese president over what the lawmakers called China's consistent violations of international trade law.
Eager to point to trade successes, the White House announced China will announce deals Wednesday to purchase $45 billion in U.S. exports, including a $19 billion agreement to buy 200 Boeing airplanes.
A White House fact sheet said the deal will create 235,000 jobs in the U.S. China will also invest in U.S. exports from agriculture, telecommunications and computer companies.
U.S. companies have also bristled at China's "indigenous innovation" policy, which limits Beijing's purchase of foreign products to those designed in China. The White House said Wednesday that China took steps to ease that policy.
The White House also announced China is taking steps to better guard against government use of illegally obtained software. U.S. businesses have long complained about rampant theft in China of their "intellectual property."
Later in the afternoon, the two leaders plan a brief news conference — an uncommon practice for Hu — limited to four questions. Hu will then be honored at a State Department luncheon.
The ceremonial highlight of the visit will be a lavish, pomp-filled state dinner Wednesday evening.
Obama and Hu held a private dinner Tuesday night, each accompanied by two of their top officials, in the White House residence. [See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.]
While the agenda is packed with weighty issues, expectations remain modest.
"Overcoming the sense of mistrust is probably the most important thing," said Charles Freeman, a China expert at the Center for the Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank.
Hu's visit comes as the political trajectory has shifted for both nations.
China's success in weathering the global economic crisis coincided with worries among its neighbors in Asia over its growing military clout. Ultimately, that distrust has benefited the U.S., as nations such as Japan, South Korea and even Vietnam have looked to cement stronger ties with the U.S. as a regional power. Obama traveled to Japan, South Korea, India and Indonesia in November in part to strengthen those relationships as a buffer against China's might.
The U.S. economy has shown signs of recovery and Obama also has rebounded from his own political problems, notably the loss of one house of Congress to the Republican Party in November midterm elections. A nuclear arms reduction treaty he orchestrated with Russia was approved, and he has been lauded for a touchstone speech in the aftermath of the shooting massacre in Arizona. His previously stellar poll ratings have begun to recover after months in the doldrums.
Illustrating the changed political terrain in Washington, however, the meetings and ceremonies at the White House competed for attention with a vote in the House of Representatives, newly controlled by Republicans, to repeal Obama's signature health care law.