President Barack Obama offered a warm Oval Office welcome to Chinese Vice President, Xi Jinping, who is widely seen as the next leader of his country, but warned that as it grows in stature China must recognise it has increased responsibilities to the rest of the world.
The comments betrayed the dilemma of the White House in an election year between working to improve the relationship, particularly at a time of changing leadership in Beijing, and voicing American displeasure with some of Beijing's actions. Tensions between them are high with China chafing at a rising US military presence in Southeast Asia and Washington angered over trade and economic imbalances and notably China's sluggish response to requests that it revalue its currency.
There have also been recent clashes on foreign policy with China recently joining Russia in vetoing resolutions at the United Nations on Syria. There have also been differences on the handling of Iran and North Korea and their respective nuclear programmes
But the visit by Mr Xi, which will take him also to Iowa and Los Angeles, is being seen by US officials first as a chance to size him up ahead of his expected elevation to the Chinese leadership next year. "We welcome China's peaceful rise," Mr Obama said. But he added: "We have tried to emphasise that because of China's...extraordinary development over the last two decades, that with expanding power and prosperity also comes increased responsibilities."
"We want to work with China to make sure that everybody is working by the same rules of the road when it comes to the world economic system, and that includes ensuring that there is a balanced trade flow between not only the United States and China, but around the world," he said
Mr Xi's schedule included a rare visit by a top civilian official from China to the Pentagon for talks with Leon Panetta, the US Defence Secretary. Military ties between the US and China remain flimsy and China has grown increasingly suspicious of American intentions in the Asian region.
Earlier today, Joe Biden, the US Vice President who will be chaperoning Mr Xi across the US on his five-day visit, acknowledged there are stresses in US-Chinese ties. "We are not always going to see eye to eye" on every issue...," Mr Biden said. "But is a sign of strength and maturity in our relationship that we can talk cordially about our differences."
Also on the table today were human rights issues that for years have always thrown sand in the relationship. The arrival of Mr Xi in Washington on Monday night brought a series of protests near and around the White House from critics of Chinese rule over Tibet.
Conscious that his American trip would be closely scrutinised at home, Mr Xi kept to a careful script in his comments, saying only in response to the welcome from Mr Biden that he was committed to "deepen our friendship." He added: "I look forward to an in-depth and candid exchange of views and shared interests."