BEIJING (AP) -- President Barack Obama opened two days of talks Tuesday with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a sprawling garden compound next to the Forbidden City, telling the Chinese leader he wants to take the relationship "to a new level."

President Barack Obama, right, follows China's President Xi Jinping as they enter a room for a meeting after participating in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit at the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in Beijing . (AP Photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon, Pool)

"When the U.S. and China are able to work together effectively, the whole world benefits," Obama said.

Obama said he hoped for productive, candid talks of the kind they held last year at the Sunnylands estate in California, where the two leaders aimed to forge a close personal bond during hours of meetings and a long stroll through its manicured gardens.

Xi, speaking through a translator, sought to portray their relationship as one that would only grow over time, drawing on a metaphor about how a pool begins with many drops of water.

Beams of red and blue lights lit up Zhong Nan Hai, the imperial gardens near Tiananmen Square that serve as the center of power for China's government and the Communist Party of China. After Obama arrived in his motorcade, Xi greeted the American president on a chilly evening with a handshake and led him on a ceremonial walk over a brightly lit bridge, explaining the history of Zhong Nan Hai through a translator.

After the evening meeting with Obama, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Ambassador Max Baucus, Xi hosted Obama for a private dinner.

The intimate evening set the stage for formal, in-depth talks that Obama and Xi were to hold on Wednesday. The meetings between the two leaders followed an Asia-Pacific economic summit, hosted by Xi, that Obama attended along with leaders from nearly two dozen other countries.

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