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“The meeting represents a huge investment by both sides in the relationship and the health of the relationship,” said Nina Hachigian, a China expert at the Center for American Progress. “This is viewed as extremely special by the Chinese side.”

The logistics of Mr. Xi’s visit have been negotiated intensely, as is the case with all meetings between the U.S. and China. The Chinese government often pushes for limited media access, though the White House said Friday that U.S. officials were working to arrange an opportunity for reporters to ask questions of the two leaders at the end of the summit.

President George W. Bush held a somewhat similar meeting in 2002 when he hosted then-Chinese President Jiang Zemin at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas.

There’s little expectation the summit will result in any concrete policy decisions. But Kurt Campbell, who until recently served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said the discussions on both cybersecurity and North Korea have a “real potential for progress, not because of some enormous good will, but because China is badly positioned on both.”

In a shift from his predecessor, Mr. Xi has taken a stern tone with North Korea. He has told the North to return to nuclear talks with the U.S. and other world powers and has warned its young leader that no country “should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gain.”

The U.S. long has pushed China to take more aggressive action against North Korea and welcomed Mr. Xi’s comments. China is the North’s strongest ally and biggest trading partner.

Financial issues also are expected to be a prominent topic in the talks between the leaders of the world’s largest economies. Mr. Xi probably will press China‘s claims of business discrimination in the U.S. market.

Mr. Xi is likely to express deep discomfort over Washington’s shifting of military assets to Asia and renewed emphasis on alliances with other countries within the region. China sees the strategy, referred to by Mr. Obama as his Asia “pivot,” as an effort to contain Beijing’s rising power.

At the Singapore conference, a Chinese military leader questioned the expanded U.S. role in the Pacific after Mr. Hagel said he hoped for better military ties between the two countries.

Mr. Xi and Mr. Obama first met last year when Mr. Xi, then vice president, visited the White House. Mr. Xi has a warm relationship with Vice President Joseph R. Biden after their travels together throughout China during Mr. Biden’s 2011 visit.

Mr. Xi has deeper ties to the U.S. than his predecessors. He’s visited the country frequently and stays in contact with families he stayed with in Muscatine, Iowa, while a visiting provincial official in 1985. His daughter attended Harvard.