Mr. Obama acknowledged that differences on rights were "an occasional source of tension between our two governments."
He said at a joint news conference with Hu at the White House, "We have some core views as Americans about the universality of certain rights: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly."
Mr. Obama said he drove that home forcefully in his discussions with the Chinese leader, but "that doesn't prevent us from cooperating in these other critical areas."
For Hu's part, he declined to respond to an American reporter's question on human rights differences between the two countries.
In a sign of the growing economic bonds between the two superpowers, Obama said the countries had made. Mr. Obama also said China was taking significant steps to curtail the theft of intellectual property and expand U.S. investment.
Mr. Obama said China had become "one of the top markets for American exports" and that these exports have helped to support a half million U.S. jobs.
Hu said he and Obama had agreed to "share expanding common interests."
"We both agreed to further push forward the positive cooperative and comprehensive China-U.S. relationship and commit to work together to build a China-U.S. cooperative partnership based on mutual respect and mutual benefit, so as to better benefit people in our own countries and the world over," Hu said.
Hu, speaking through a translator, said both countries should "respect each other's sovereignty, territorial integrity and development interests."
Mr. Obama said, "I absolutely believe China's peaceful rise is good for the world, and it's good for America."
As both countries continue to recover from the global economic crisis - a recovery that began in China well before it did in the U.S. and other developed nations - the United States increasingly sees China as a market for its goods, Obama said.
"We want to sell you all kinds of stuff," Obama told Hu. "We want to sell you planes, we want to sell you cars, we want to sell you software. ...
"And as President Hu and his government refocuses the economy on expanding domestic demand, that offers opportunity for U.S. businesses that ultimately translates into jobs."
The meeting follows an up and down two years in which an assertive China initially cold-shouldered the U.S. on climate change, did little to reel in its unpredictable ally North Korea and responded limply to U.S. pleas to mitigate trade imbalances. For its part, the U.S. riled China by selling arms to Taiwan and inviting Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to the White House.
"We do not always see the world the same way, which is to be expected since we have very different histories and cultures," Secretary of State Hillary. "But it is imperative that we work not only government-to-government, but people-to-people to build a foundation of better understanding and trust so that where we can agree, we will do so, and work together."
Clinton said the two countries had "one of the most consequential relationships for and the future of our country and the future of the world."
Hu's visit comes as the political trajectory has shifted for both nations.
China's success in weathering the global economic crisis coincided with an increasing confidence - critics would say brashness - on the world stage and worries among its neighbors in Asia over its growing military clout. Ultimately, that distrust has benefited the U.S., as nations such as Japan, South Korea and even Vietnam have looked to cement stronger ties with the U.S. as a regional power.
The U.S. economy has shown signs of recovery and Mr. Obama also has rebounded from his own political problems, notably the loss of one house of Congress to the Republican Party in November midterm elections. A nuclear arms reduction treaty he orchestrated with Russia was approved, and he has been lauded for a touchstone speech in the aftermath of the shooting massacre in Arizona. His previously stellar poll ratings have begun to recover after months in the doldrums.
That shift in fortunes is unlikely to translate into major concessions from Hu, but Mr. Obama may encounter a more amenable Chinese leader, who will be looking to burnish China's image in the U.S. and his own standing before he steps down in 2012.