Chinese President Xi Jinping is calling for better relations with Washington to help prevent what he said would be disastrous conflict between the two nations, as he begins his week-long tour of the United States.
The comments came Tuesday during a much-anticipated policy speech to business leaders in Seattle, the first stop on a trip that will culminate later this week with the Chinese leader's first state visit to the White House.
"If China and the U.S. cooperate well, they can become a bedrock of global stability," Xi said. "Should they enter into conflict or confrontation, it would lead to disaster for both countries and the world at large.
However, as the Chinese leader spoke Tuesday in Seattle, dozens of protesters gathered nearby to condemn what they see as Beijing's harsh policies in Tibet and its crackdown against other political dissidents.
He is also likely to experience protests in Washington, where several groups plan to hold demonstrations near the White House, and in New York, where Xi plans to address the U.N. General Assembly.
National Security Advisor Susan Rice said earlier this week U.S. officials will continue to push China to stop detaining activists, to allow more freedom of speech, and to eliminate restrictions on religious practices.
But similar statements in the past have been dismissed by Beijing, with little noticeable progress. And there is no indication that Obama intends to give human rights concerns any more priority in the current meetings.
"It's absolutely true that it's a big and complicated relationship, and so there are a lot of topics vying for attention," acknowledged Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. "But we certainly think that the deterioration of the rights situation in China under Xi merits special attention."
"We also try to remind people that the same laws and independent institutions in China that would better protect human rights, like an independent court system, respect for the freedom of expression, are also essential to a healthy trade relationship and better diplomatic partnering, and many other aspects of the relationship," she told VOA.
VOA's Victor Beattie contributed to this report.