MOSCOW -- Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed Wednesday to continue working to denuclearize North Korea and combat protectionist tides around the world, deepening their ties in the face of growing rifts with the U.S.
"Protectionism and unilateral approaches are on the rise, and a policy of force and hegemonism is increasingly taking hold," Xi said in a veiled attack against U.S. tariffs levied against Chinese exports at a joint news conference.
Beijing and Moscow have become closer as each has had its own clashes with Washington. Russia has come under fire after being accused of meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election while China has been mired in a trade war with U.S. that has seen the world's two largest economies engage in tit-for-tat tariffs and the blacklisting of companies over the past few months.
Xi, calling Putin a "close friend," said China and Russia will resolutely defend an international order centered on the United Nations.
China and Russia see eye to eye on almost every major international issue, Putin said, stressing the importance of the nonproliferation of nuclear materials and a peaceful resolution in the Korean Peninsula.
The Russian president praised the opening of a Chinese car factory in Russia, saying it was a sign of strong business ties between the countries. The two leaders also visited a zoo where a ceremony was held for two giant pandas given to Russia by China.
"We highly appreciate that friendly gesture," Putin said, smiling.
The leaders also signed a joint statement, vowing to strengthen their strategic partnership. Companies from both countries inked about 30 agreements to work together, including one between China's Huawei Technologies and a Russian telecommunications company on developing 5G networks. Huawei has been a prime target in the trade war, with the U.S. claiming that its equipment could be used by Beijing for espionage.
Xi will stay in Russia until Friday. After leaving Moscow, he will be the guest of honor at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, an event held to attract international investors to Russia each year.
The Chinese administration led by Xi is preparing for a protracted battle with the U.S. as trade talks stall. It hopes that coordination with Russia, a major military power, will help advance its interests. China has been actively purchasing surface-to-air missiles and fighter jets from Russia.
It is also ramping up trade in general. Total trade between the two countries jumped 24.5% in 2018 to a record $108 billion, largely from an increase in China's imports of crude oil from Russia. China plans to buy more Russian soybeans and chicken as well.
Xi's overtures reflect Chinese concern that Russia could move closer to the U.S. as scrutiny lessens over Moscow's alleged intervention in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which was won by Donald Trump.
Xi and Putin are slated to meet four times in June alone, including at an international summit in Kyrgyzstan and the Group of 20 summit in Japan. Xi hopes to ensure he is on the same page with the Russian leader ahead of a meeting with Trump at the end of the month.