* Xi says China, Russia ties guarantee global balance
* Warns against foreign meddling in signal to West
* Russia is Xi's first foreign destination as president
* Xi courts Russian students, first lady in audience
By Vladimir Soldatkin
MOSCOW, March 23 Chinese President Xi Jinping
warned against foreign interference in the affairs of other
nations during a speech in Moscow on Saturday, sending a signal
to the West and echoing a message often repeated by Russian
President Vladimir Putin.
Permanent U.N. Security Council members with veto power,
Russia and China have frequently teamed up diplomatically to
blunt the influence of the United States and its NATO allies and
have blocked three draft resolutions on Syria.
"We must respect the right of each country in the world to
independently choose its path of development and oppose
interference in the internal affairs of other countries," Xi
told students at an international relations school.
He spoke a day after meeting Putin on his first foreign trip
since becoming president, a choice both said underscored a
"strategic partnership" between Russia and China.
In the Kremlin, he told Putin: "you and I are good friends."
Xi told Russian students on Saturday: "Strong
Chinese-Russian relations ... not only answer to our interests
but also serve as an important, reliable guarantee of an
international strategic balance and peace."
Putin, who began a six-year term last May, has often
criticised foreign interference in sovereign states.
Russia and China have resisted Western calls to pressure
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over the two-year-old civil
conflict that has killed more than 70,000 people in Syria.
They have both criticised the NATO bombing that helped
rebels overthrow Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and stood
together in the Security Council in votes on the Iranian and
North Korean nuclear programmes.
In a symbolic show of trust, Xi became the first foreign
leader to visit the Russian military command center in Moscow on
Saturday, Russian news agencies reported.
Xi and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the
countries share concerns about U.S. global missile-defence
deployments, Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov said.
Both China and Russia have also bristled at U.S. and
European criticism of their human rights records.
FRIENDSHIP AND FEAR
Putin said in a foreign policy decree issued at the start of
his new term Russia would counter attempts to use human rights
as a pretext for interference, and his government has cracked
down on foreign-funded non-governmental organisations.
Xi told Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev his visit had
"surpassed my expectations" and said he had chosen Russia as his
first foreign destination as president to "show the special
importance of our relations."
But economic deals between the world's biggest energy
producer, Russia, and its biggest consumer, China, have been
harder to come by than diplomatic solidarity. Warm words hide
Russian concerns that its far more populous, faster-growing
Asian neighbour could pose a threat.
Xi's visit produced an agreement for Russian state giant
Rosneft to gradually treble oil supplies to China, but
the sides are still short of a deal on the supply of pipeline
gas to China, thwarted for years over prices.
Viktor Yaskov, a student who attended Xi's address, said the
Chinese leader made "a good impression," but expressed fears
about Russia's neighbour. "We're worried about Chinese economic
expansion," he said.
Xi arrived in Moscow with glamorous first lady Peng Liyuan,
prompting speculation about whether Putin's wife Lyudmila, last
seen at a state event last May, would make an appearance.
That did not happen, and Peng kept a low profile after her
first steps off the plane caused an Internet sensation in China.
After Russia, Xi will visit Tanzania, the Republic of Congo
and South Africa, where he and Putin are expected to meet again
at a summit of the BRICS group of emerging economies next week.