In his remarks at the South Lawn arrival ceremony, Obama said each country had an enormous stake in the other's future, and he then referenced human rights.
"We also know this: 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 peoples are upheld - including the universal rights of every human being," Obama said.
For his part, Hu said the relationship between the two powers should be based on "mutual respect," with each country respecting the other's core interests and choices of development paths - suggesting limits to how far the U.S. can push China on issues from currency to human rights.
The state visit marked Hu's first visit to the U.S. since 2006, when his arrival ceremony was marred by protocol blunders including an outburst from a protester from the Falun Gong spiritual sect. No such missteps occurred Wednesday.
Hu pulled up to the White House portico as part of a highly choreographed arrival, complete with welcomes from the president, Vice President Joe Biden and their wives and a long line of Cabinet members and Chinese dignitaries.
Obama and Hu stood at attention as a military band played both national anthems. The Chinese anthem was properly announced as that of the "People's Republic of China," avoiding another gaffe committed during Hu's 2006 visit, when an announcer mistakenly used the official name of Taiwan.
The two leaders inspected troops on the White House South Lawn, then approached a rope line where they shook hands and greeted a group of children and young people holding Chinese and U.S. flags.
Obama and Biden then met with Hu in the Oval Office ahead of an expanded meeting that will include their respective staffs. The president also will host a session with Hu, Chinese business leaders and 14 leading American chief executives.
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.
Capping the day will be a lavish, pomp-filled state dinner.
Obama and Hu held a private dinner Tuesday night, each accompanied by two of their top officials, in the White House residence.
With many Americans blaming China at least in part for the high U.S. unemployment rate, both presidents will be looking to build trust in a relationship grounded in mutual interest but troubled by intractable disputes.