[BEIJING] President Barack Obama announced a deal on Monday to extend visas for Chinese visitors to the United States for up to a decade, insisting he wants China "to do well" despite simmering tensions between the world's two largest economies.
"The United States welcomes the rise of a prosperous, peaceful and stable China," Mr Obama said in a speech at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing.
But he also walked a delicate line between reaching out to Beijing and raising thorny issues, following up the visa announcement with calls for China to free up its markets and tightly controlled exchange rate, and to respect human rights and media freedoms.
Mr Obama waded for the first time into the weeks of pro-democracy protests in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory of Hong Kong, saying that avoiding violence was a priority.
"Our primary message has been to make sure violence is avoided," he told reporters, adding that the US would "continue to have concerns about human rights" in China.
China has labelled the demonstrations illegal and has previously told Washington to stay out of the issue.
The consular deal for both countries' citizens will see student visas extended to five years, with the validity of business and tourist visas stretched out to a decade, up from one year now.
There were 1.8 million Chinese visitors to the US last year, Mr Obama said, contributing US$21 billion to the economy and supporting more than 100,000 jobs.
"This agreement could help us more than quadruple those numbers," he said, describing it as an "important breakthrough which will benefit our economies, bring our people together".
"I'm pleased that President Xi has been a partner in getting this done." China sends nearly 100 million tourists abroad annually and represents a growing and increasingly coveted source of high-spending visitors in destination countries.
One senior US official called the agreement "a really big win" and "a really big deal for the economy".
Mr Obama arrived in China earlier in the day on a week-long trip to press US priorities in the region but wounded from the Democrats' losses in the mid-term elections.
He also faces heightened tensions with Russia, whose President Vladimir Putin is also visiting the APEC gathering.
Relations between Washington and Beijing are often tense, with territorial issues, rights and markets regular bones of contention.
"We look to China to create a more level playing field on which foreign companies are treated fairly," he said, adding the US was looking to China to "move definitively toward a more market-determined exchange rate and, yes, to stand up for human rights and freedom of the press".
"We don't suggest these things because they are good for us," he said, adding he would raise the issues in his meetings with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
"We suggest that China do these things for the sake of sustainable growth in China and the stability of the Asia-Pacific region." Apec kicks off a week of high-level summitry that will see Mr Obama and other top leaders travel next to Myanmar for the East Asia Summit, followed by G20 talks in Brisbane, Australia.
China is hosting Apec for the first time since 2001, when it was still re-emerging as a world economic power.
But in a speech on Sunday, Mr Xi underlined how much has changed by offering his vision of a continued rise by China that offers "infinite promise" to all.