By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOVAssociated Press
MOSCOW (AP) - China's new president, who has chosen Moscow as his first foreign destination, urged Russia to work closer with Beijing on foreign policy matters in order to better protect their joint security and interests.
The comments from Xi Jinping Friday appeared to reflect a growing desire to secure Russia's backing for a new assertiveness that he has shown in challenging U.S. influence in Asia, and Japan over a set of disputed islands.
Xi, who only became president last week, was greeted by Russia's Vladimir Putin at a grandiose reception that saw guards on horseback for the first time in the welcoming of a foreign leader. The pomp underlined just how close ties between the two Cold War-era rivals have become given their energy needs and a shared aspiration to curtail U.S. power around the world.
Kremlin guards snapped at attention as Xi Jinping and his long retinue walked into the gilded, chandeliered Grand Kremlin Palace. The two leaders greeted members of official delegations in the ornate St. George Hall before sitting down for talks.
At the start of the negotiations, Putin described the ties between the two countries as an "extremely important factor of global politics." Xi said in turn that the relations between the two countries are at the best ever.
Putin told the ITAR-Tass news agency in an interview published Friday that Xi's choice of Moscow for his first trip abroad underscored the "special nature of strategic partnership" between the two former Cold War rivals. Xi became Communist Party chief in November and was formally named president last week.
"We are working together, helping to shape a new, more just world order, ensure peace and security, defend basic principles of international law," Putin said.
He added that Russia and China have set an example of a "balanced and pragmatic approach" to international crises - an apparent reference to their lockstep opposition to U.N. sanctions against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.
Xi, in turn, pointedly told Putin that he expects Russia to "strengthen coordination and interaction in tackling international and regional issues to ensure our common strategic security."
"We must make the emphasis on further increasing our mutual political support and resolutely back each other's efforts to protect its sovereignty, security and development interests," Xi said.
Douglas H. Paal and Dmitri Trenin of Carnegie Endowment said in an analysis this week that China may try to woo Moscow to Beijing's side in its quarrel with Japan and entice it to cooperate more actively against the U.S.-led missile shield in northeast Asia.
However, they said Russia is unlikely to show much enthusiasm as it wants to normalize relations with Tokyo and doesn't share the Chinese grievances about the U.S. missile defenses in the Pacific region. Still, they said, Moscow and Beijing are interested in nurturing close ties.
"For China, Putin personally can be relied upon to keep an arm's length from Washington and to promote a multipolar world, not one dominated by the United States," Paal and Trenin said. "For Russia, the growth of China, India, and other emerging powers is clearest evidence of the multipolar world becoming a reality. Thus, demonstrating Sino-Russian cooperation serves the interests of both in offsetting American power and influence."
Xi's choice of Russia followed a tradition of leaders of the two countries paying inaugural visits to each other after taking power to underline their ties.
The negotiations were expected to focus on oil and gas as China seeks to secure new energy resources to fuel its growing economy.
China has looked to secure energy supplies from Russia, the world's biggest energy producer, as part of a strategy to reduce its dependence on sea routes.
Russia, in turn, is interested in securing a share of China's giant energy market, but talks on a major new pipeline to China have dragged on for years amid fierce price disputes.
Bilateral trade has been steadily growing, reaching $88 billion last year, still a fraction of China's trade with the United States and the European Union.
Trade in arms has slackened in recent years as China, which was the No.1 importer of Russian weapons in the 1990s, has built up its own industry largely through cloning Russian weapons.
But it so far has failed to copy some of the key Russian technologies, particularly aircraft engines, and has shown a renewed interest recently in ramping up its purchases from Russia.
Russian arms trade officials said they have recently signed a tentative deal with China for the delivery of a batch of Russian Su-35 fighter jets.
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