WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao pledged to usher in a new era of mutual trust over a host of issues from military relationships to economic and trade agreements during Hu’s state visit to the White House, as the U.S. looked for ways to harness China’s meteoric expansion.

“We welcome China’s rise,” Obama said, in a joint press conference at the White House. “We just want to make sure that that rise is done, that the rise occurs, in a way that reinforces international norms and international rules, and enhances security and peace, as opposed to it being a source of conflict, either in the region or around the world.”

Obama said the two sides agreed on number of security issues, including denuclearizing North Korea, pressing Iran to meet United Nations Security Council obligations on its nuclear program, and moving ahead on opening military exchanges, while raising concerns over China’s continually troubling human rights record.

Obama also said they were moving forward with Hu’s commitment at last year’s U.S-China nuclear summit to establish a joint nuclear “Center of Excellence” in China to help secure “vulnerable” nuclear materials.

The nuclear announcement comes one week after Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited China’s nuclear strike commander, Gen. Jing Zhiyuan, at his Second Artillery Corps headquarters in Beijing.

There, Gates secured what some consider a diplomatic breakthrough for Americans, a promise from Jing to visit the American nuclear command center at U.S. Strategic Command at Offut Air Force Base, in Nebraska. Gates won that and several other commitments to increase military exchanges and transparency, though with few specifics, in a visit designed to set the tone for Hu’s state visit this week.

Yet, in the days before Gates’ arrival, China’s People’s Liberation Army revealed the first images of its long-anticipated stealth fighter, and test flew the aircraft hours before Gates met Hu. Many observers felt the test was meant to embarrass Gates. But Gates said when he asked Hu directly the president appeared surprised the test had occurred, raising further questions whether China’s civilian leaders had control of its military.

Gates later said in Tokyo that he believed Hu’s explanation that it was a previously scheduled test and that Hu was undoubtedly in command of the PLA.

“Certainly, the more that we can build the baseline of trust,” Obama said on Wednesday, “the more likely we are able to solve the friction or irritants that exist in a relationship between any two countries in a more constructive way.”

Hu met privately with Obama in the Oval Office before moving to the Cabinet Room to continue talks between their delegations on security, trade and economic issues.

“At a time when some doubt the benefits of cooperation between the United States and China, this visit is also a chance to demonstrate a simple truth: We have an enormous stake in each others’ success,” Obama said in opening remarks upon Hu’s arrival. “In an interconnected world, in a global economy, nations, including our own, will be more prosperous and more secure when we work together.”

Hu called on the U.S. and China to work together toward “common responsibilities” with more bilateral exchanges and direct coordination of their foreign affairs.

Hu is being feted with full ceremonial accoutrements at the White House, where a military band played national anthems and the leaders inspected troops at attention on the South Lawn. Adm. Mike Mullen’s wife, Deborah, fainted during the ceremonies but quickly recovered and is fine, Mullen’s spokesman said. A state dinner was planned for Wednesday evening.

Both sides stressed commonalities, minimizing attention to their differences. Obama only gently referenced human rights in his opening remarks.

“I reaffirmed America’s fundamental commitment to the universal rights of all people. That includes basic human rights like freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association and demonstration, and of religion — rights that are recognized in the Chinese constitution,” Obama said. “As I’ve said before, the United States speaks up for these freedoms and the dignity of every human being, not only because it’s part of who we are as Americans, but we do so because we believe that by upholding these universal rights, all nations, including China, will ultimately be more prosperous and successful.”

Hu said the relationship should be based on “mutual respect.” In the press conference he defended China’s improving human rights record, but conceded China had a long way to go as a developing country.

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