The state-run China Daily reported:
Xi said given the differences in national conditions and in historical and cultural [background] between the two countries, “it is only natural that we have some differences on the issue of human rights.”
Xi, who is considered the likely successor to Chinese President Hu Jintao next year, added that China will respect America's human rights record in return.
Insisting that it is absolutely vital that we have a strong relationship with China, Obama spoke with Xi about economic disputes, military forces in the Asia Pacific region, and the situation in Syria.
China has been criticized for blocking a United Nations resolution that would officially condemn Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government's violent crackdown on protests. More than 6,000 people have died in the unrest in the country, but until recently China, Syria's main importer, has not wanted to get involved in the situation.
On critical issues like human rights we will continue to emphasize what we believe is the importance of recognizing the aspirations and rights of all people, Obama said during the meeting.
With expanding power and prosperity also comes increased responsibilities, Obama said, referring to China's continued rise as an economic and military force.
Days before the exchange between the two leaders, China's human rights record was called into question anew when Suzan Johnson Cook, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, was reportedly barred from entering China. She was denied a visa because of her lack of scheduled meetings, according to the Washington Post, but her recent conversations with representatives from Tibet, the Uighurs, and the Falun Gong -- all persecuted minorities in China -- probably didn't help.
Obama's decision not to discuss the incident sparked criticism in some quarters, while the mere mention of human rights at all infuriated others.
While meeting with the president, Xi declared that the U.S. should honor its commitment of recognizing Tibet as part of China and opposing “Tibet Independence,” China Daily reported.