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China’s new leader visits Russia in effort to improve relations

President Xi Jinping (left) of China and President Vladimir Putin of Russia signed documents in Moscow for a gas delivery pact by Russia’s Gazprom to energy-hungry China.

SERGEI ILNITSKY/EPA

President Xi Jinping (left) of China and President Vladimir Putin of Russia signed documents in Moscow for a gas delivery pact by Russia’s Gazprom to energy-hungry China.

MOSCOW — China’s new president received a lavish welcome Friday as he made Moscow his first foreign destination, joining with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a pointed attempt to counter US influence in Asia.

Xi Jinping, who became president just last week, urged Russia to improve its foreign policy coordination to protect the two neighbors’ joint security interests — comments that appeared to seek Russia’s backing for his eagerness to reduce US influence and challenge Japan over a set of disputed islands.

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Xi was greeted by Putin at a grandiose reception that saw guards on horseback welcoming a foreign leader for the first time in recent memory. The pomp underlined just how close ties between the two Cold War-era rivals have become thanks to their energy needs and a shared aspiration to curtail US power around the world.

After the talks, Russian and Chinese officials signed pacts on deliveries of Russian oil and gas to China.

Kremlin guards snapped at attention as Xi 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.

Putin described the ties between the two nations as an ‘‘extremely important factor in global politics’’ and said Moscow ‘‘greatly appreciated’’ Xi’s decision to make Russia the first country he visited as China’s new leader.

The visit by Xi, who became Communist Party chief in November, followed a tradition of the two nations’ leaders paying inaugural visits to each other.

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Putin told the ITAR-Tass news agency that relations between Moscow and Beijing were helping to ‘‘shape a new, more just world order.’’ He added that Russia and China have shown a ‘‘balanced and pragmatic approach’’ to international crises — an apparent reference to their opposition to UN sanctions against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Xi, in turn, 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 emphasize further increasing our mutual political support and resolutely back each other’s efforts to protect sovereignty, security, and development interests,’’ Xi said.

Two academics — Douglas H. Paal and Dmitri Trenin of Carnegie Endowment — said in an analysis that China may be trying to woo Moscow to Beijing’s side in its quarrel with Japan and trying to prod Russia to cooperate against the US-led missile shield in northeast Asia.

They predicted, however, that Russia probably will not show much enthusiasm for the plan, because it wants to normalize relations with Tokyo and does not share China’s grievances on US 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,’’ they said. ‘‘Demonstrating Sino-Russian cooperation serves the interests of both in offsetting American power and influence.’’

Friday’s talks focused on energy as China looked to secure supplies from Russia, the world’s biggest energy producer, as part of its strategy to cut its dependence on sea routes.

Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom natural gas giant and China’s CNPC signed a memorandum on building a new gas pipeline to China, inching closer to a deal that has been on the table for years amid fierce price disputes.

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