Chinese leaders welcomed Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted for alleged war crimes, as a friend on Wednesday.
President Hu Jintao gave a red-carpet welcome, complete with honor guard, to al-Bashir, who is currently the subject of a warrant for war crime charges from the International Criminal Court (ICC).
"I believe that this visit will definitely have great significance for the consolidation and development of traditionally friendly relations between China and Sudan," Hu said.
"I am willing to have thorough exchanges with you on our developing relations and other shared issues."
China is not a member of the Court, which is based in The Hague, but is Sudan's biggest diplomatic and economic ally.
Al-Bashir, whose visit comes ahead of independence for south Sudan on July 9, thanked his hosts for his "warm welcome and treatment."
Hu said China supported the 2005 north-south peace accord that brought an end to more than 20 years of civil war and killed more than two million people.
Hu called for a peaceful settlement and "national reconciliation" between the two sides, the official Chinese media reported.
Violence has escalated in areas contested by the north and south in recent weeks, triggering the charges against al-Bashir.
Al-Bashir and Hu also inked an economic and technological cooperation agreement on Wednesday, though no details were made public.
China has longstanding good relations with the Sudanese government in the north, and has made major oil investments in Sudan. Chinese diplomats have been taking steps to preserve links with the south, which is also a producer of oil.
This week, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi became the second sitting head of state to be charged for crimes against humanity by the Court for killing civilian opposition supporters.
A show of solidarity
U.S.-based Chinese democracy activist Liu Qing hit out at the meeting, saying Beijing maintains close ties with many of the world's authoritarian regimes.
"The Chinese Communist Party can sympathize with dictators and it maintains close ties with them," Liu said. "This is the essence of dictatorial regimes."
Liu said China had chosen to invite al-Bashir at this time as a show of solidarity in the wake of popular protests across the Arab world, which had sparked a domestic security crackdown on Chinese dissidents and activists in recent months.
"The Chinese Communist Party buys a lot of its oil from [that region], and a lot of the arms used to massacre [civilians] in Darfur were bought from China," he said.
But he said there were other reasons for al-Bashir's visit.
"I think that dictatorships are supporting each other in the face of the popular uprisings we have seen in the Arab world in favor of freedom, democracy and human rights," Liu said.
"They want to lend each other a hand."
U.S.-based Chinese lawyer Ye Ning said that the ICC in The Hague still had jurisdiction in China, even though Beijing wasn't a signatory to the Treaty of Rome, which set it up.
"According to the International Criminal Court, it has universal powers to impose its jurisdiction on governments ... in the case of certain internationally recognized crimes," Ye said.
"This is a relatively new idea which came in the wake of World War II," he said.
Sudan's Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti said that al-Bashir was seeking assurances from Beijing that China would continue to invest in northern Sudan's oil, agriculture and mining sectors.
"We had good assurances from his excellency President Hu Jintao that China would go on working with Sudan hand in hand, whether politically or financially or economically," Karti said on Wednesday.
During his China trip, al-Bashir paid a visit to the Beijing headquarters of China National Petroleum Corp., Asia's biggest oil and gas producer by volume, which signed a 20-year, multi-billion-dollar development deal with Sudan in 2007.
Reported by Shi Shan for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.