Chinese President Hu Jintao took his political roadshow to the U.S. heartland on Friday, visiting Chicago to highlight business and cultural ties between the world's two largest economies.

Leaving behind the rancour of Washington where he was pressed on human rights and currency policy, Hu was feted by the Chicago elite at a gala dinner in U.S. President Barack Obama's hometown. He was to wrap up his four-day U.S. state visit with stops at a local school and a business exhibition.

Analysts said Hu's trip had gone smoothly enough to help set a better tone to the relationship after a flare-up in tensions last year over issues such as trade, North Korea and Internet censorship.

Chinese media lauded Hu's visit as a historic masterstroke in easing tensions.

State television news channels gave blanket coverage to the ceremony of Hu's state dinner and welcome at the White House, in a reflection of China's desire for its leader to be portrayed as a valued and honoured player on the world stage.

But the reports largely ignored thornier questions of currency and human rights.

The visit has been billed by some experts as the most important U.S.-China visit in more than 30 years. Obama has said the relationship between the two countries will help shape the 21st century.

Wednesday's choreographed White House summit, the centrepiece of Hu's trip, was mostly glitch-free and featured the pomp and ceremony China covets as a symbol of its rising global stature.

U.S. officials touted an acknowledgment from Hu at a joint press conference that more needs to be done on human rights and welcomed $45 billion (28 billion pounds) in export deals with China.

They also said the visit helped to serve both leaders' goal of deepening bilateral ties.

We believe we come out of here advancing the shared view of the relationship that both the U.S. and China have and, I think, that both presidents have, which is that we should identify issues of common interest and aim to build cooperative approaches on those issues, White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said in a video conference with Beijing bloggers.

Obama appeared to have succeeded in convincing China to press its ally North Korea to head into talks with South Korea to try to calm mounting tension on the divided peninsula.

The New York Times quoted a senior U.S. official as saying Obama warned Hu that if China did not step up pressure on the North, Washington would redeploy its forces in Asia to protect itself from a potential North Korean strike on U.S. soil.

Seoul and Pyongyang agreed to Thursday night to hold high-level military talks, the first since November's artillery attack on the South.

But experts were cautious about the long-term prospects for dispelling mistrust and of easing strains over such issues as China's military buildup and U.S. calls for China to move to a more market-oriented exchange rate.

On human rights, many activists doubted the comments at the summit would lead to an increase in freedoms in China.

Recently, we've seen a large regression. Hu's statements might be considered a form of progress, but the fact is that fundamental rights are still not guaranteed, said rights lawyer Li Fangping. The central government knows this but it has not acted to cure the problem.


One aim of Hu's Chicago trip will be to present a more benign image of China to Americans wary of its growing economic might and upset over what they view as unfair trade policies.

China and the United States have close business ties, though there is a large trade imbalance in China's favour -- around $270 billion for last year, according to U.S. figures.

Chinese exports to the United States include household electronics, furniture and textiles, while China imports heavy machinery, chemicals and aircraft from the United States.

Many major U.S. companies have invested in China, including General Electric Co, Coca-Cola Co and Microsoft Corp.

The United States was the fifth-largest overseas investor in China last year, pumping in $4.1 billion, up 13.3 percent on 2009.

Chicago is the financial centre of the Midwest, which has many of the products China buys. China bought more than half the soybeans exported by the United States last year. The Asian giant also buys cars, steel, construction and farming equipment, and pharmaceuticals.

Hu has urged economic cooperation and portrayed the U.S.-China trade relationship as win-win.

Hu has not commented publicly about the yuan during the trip, but U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said on Thursday there had been significant discussions.

They indicate that they understand that -- that they have to work on it, he said. Asked whether Hu made any commitments, Biden replied: Nothing specific.

On Friday, Hu and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley were to travel to Woodbridge, a Chicago suburb, for a business exhibit showcasing a Chinese-owned auto parts plant and other companies.

China wishes to work with the United States to fully tap our cooperation potential in fiscal, financial, energy, environmental, infrastructure development and other fields, Hu told Thursday's dinner, attended by a number of corporate executives.

He also urged a level playing field for Chinese firms that want to invest in the United States and pressed for greater Chinese access to U.S. technology.