MOSCOW: The leaders of China and Russia on Wednesday said their flourishing ties were needed to defy the economic crisis, putting a brave face on a slowdown that has seen bilateral trade plummet.
The warm smiles and optimistic statements were aimed at emphasising the strength of Moscow-Beijing relations and how ties have recovered from the Cold War when the main Communist powers eyed each other with suspicion.
"In the midst of the global financial crisis, we are actively developing a practical cooperation in every sphere," Chinese President Hu Jintao said at the start of a state visit to Moscow.
"China will always look at its relations with Russia as a priority of its foreign policy," he told strongman Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev after his meetings with Hu also underscored the importance of coordinated regional measures to combat the global crisis.
"Of course, today our attention is centred on those measures necessary to prevent or minimise the negative influences of the global financial crisis, which of course have an effect on our bilateral ties," Medvedev said.
"The main goal is not only to preserve the relations existing between our states, but to give them a new impulse," he added.
Medvedev hailed Hu's working visit as "friendly and constructive," adding these were qualities "that characterises relations between our two countries."
Hu ended his talks with the Russian for "Thank You" -- "Spasibo!"
Both countries have taken great strides to put old rivalries behind them just last year ending a decades-long dispute over their 4,300-kilometre (2,700-mile) border.
Medvedev and Hu signed a packet of accords for future cooperation including in the sphere of natural gas and coal.
Yet bilateral trade has now taken a major hit from the economic crisis, falling 42 percent to 7.3 billion dollars for the first quarter of 2009 compared to the same period last year, Russia's trade envoy to Beijing said.
Medvedev and Putin did not mention these figures, instead citing bilateral trade with China worth over 55 billion dollars in 2008.
Medvedev also said the two leaders had discussed carrying out trade in their national currencies in a bid to lessen their dependence on the dollar, but he did not give further details on the initiative.
But even as the two leaders hailed their growing energy relations, Russian energy monopoly Gazprom said Wednesday that planned oil and gas deliveries to China had been delayed until after 2011.
"Talks are ongoing, we haven't yet agreed on the price. Already, we are no longer talking about 2011," as a deadline for completing a pipeline linking the two countries, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said.
The two countries, which normalised ties in 1989, signed the deal only last year to build the pipeline, which will run from Siberia's oil fields straight to energy-hungry China, despite initiating talks on the project in the 1990s.
"We have started a complex cooperation in the oil sphere and reached an important breakthrough in the energy sphere," Hu said.
Diplomatic ties between the two permanent UN Security Council members have been founded on a common stance on issues from Iran and North Korea's nuclear programmes to the Middle East, Sudan and non-proliferation.
And while the two countries compete for influence over energy resources in Central Asia, they have built up cooperation in regional clubs that aim to balance against US hegemony.
The Chinese delegation first travelled to Russia's Ural-mountain city of Yekaterinburg this week for back-to-back summits of two such regional groupings.
At the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, Hu flaunted Beijing's economic influence with a pledge of 10 billion dollar credits to the four Central Asian members who form the group along with China and Russia.
China also backed Russia's moves for a revamp of the global financial system, reiterating calls for a new reserve currency besides the dollar at a summit of the four leading emerging economies in Yekaterinburg.