As President Obama welcomed Hu Jintao of China to the White House yesterday with pledges of a new era of co-operation between their countries, he punctured the pomp of an opening ceremony on the south lawn with a pointed reminder of the world's dismay at Beijing's reluctant record on human rights.
Mr Obama specifically raised Tibet at a Press conference saying that while the US recognises it is a part of Chinese territory, it is urging Beijing to engage in fresh talks “to resolve concerns and differences including the preservation of the religious and cultural identity” of the Tibetan people.
“We have some core views as Americans about the universality of certain rights that we think are very important, that transcend cultures. I have been very candid with President Hu about these |issues,” he said.
The comments came after Mr Obama and President Hu stood alongside each other on a podium as a 21-gun salute marked the start of an intricately choreographed formal visit by the Chinese leader that was to culminate with a star-studded state dinner last night.
Barely had the day's serious business begun, including talks between the two heads of state, than the White House was |unveiling a $45bn (£28bn) new export agreement with China that it said would protect 235,000 American jobs.
But while Mr Obama was already going further than his predecessor, George Bush, to accord Mr Hu full honours in Washington — last night's occasion was to be the first state dinner for a Chinese leader in 13 years — there could be no ignoring the gaps between them on human rights.
While Mr Obama is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mr Hu leads a country that has this year's |winner of the prize, Liu Xiaobo, behind bars.
Saying that he saw his visit as an opportunity to “open a new chapter in co-operation as partners”, President Hu also sharpened the atmosphere by serving notice that China and America will not see eye to eye on everything and that the two countries should exercise “mutual respect” of each other's positions.