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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 May, 2003, 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK
China-Russia 'closer than ever'
Hu Jintao at the wreath-laying ceremony
Hu lays a wreath in a traditional ceremony before the talks
Chinese President Hu Jintao met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin on Tuesday for official talks on the second day of the Chinese president's first foreign tour.

The two men reaffirmed their countries' strategic ties and Mr Hu said he valued the personal friendship which he said had already developed.

Mr Putin said relations between Russia and China had "reached their highest level ever".

Before the Kremlin meeting, Mr Hu took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Russia's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, at the foot of the Kremlin walls.

Further talks on Tuesday were expected to focus on developing bilateral trade between the countries, co-operation on international matters and a proposed oil pipeline between China and eastern Siberia.

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, in Beijing, says the trip is a chance for Mr Hu to emerge from the shadow of his predecessor, Jiang Zemin.

Relaxed first meeting

On Monday, the two men met informally at Mr Putin's Novo-Ogarevo residence.

Mr Putin said he and his wife Lyudmila were "especially pleased to receive our Chinese friends not just in Russia, not just in Moscow, but here at our home".

He said Mr Hu was an experienced politician, with a high regard for Russia.

Both Mr Hu and Mr Putin appeared relaxed as they appeared before reporters, both accompanied by their wives.

Strategic partners

Mr Hu's 10-day tour will also take him to the Group of Eight (G8) industrialised nations summit in France, as well as to Kazakhstan and Mongolia.

Hu Jintao

Russia is the first and longest leg of Mr Hu's tour and indicates the importance which both countries attach to an alliance once seen as an essential counterweight to American military and economic might.

Rivalry and even hostility blighted the relationship during the 1960s, but warming ties were formalised in 2001, when Mr Putin signed a treaty of friendship with Mr Hu's predecessor Jiang Zemin.

Under President Jiang, China and Russia developed a so-called "strategic partnership", but while Russian arms sales to China have boomed in recent years, other bilateral trade has grown more slowly.

Mr Hu is being accompanied in Russia by a large delegation including his wife Liu Yongqing, Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and Minister of Commerce Lu Fuyuan.

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