Beijing – China rolled out the red carpet Wednesday for a state visit by Sudan's president, who is wanted on an international warrant that accuses him of war crimes.
President Omar al-Bashir was visiting China, a major trading partner and investor in his country, just days before southern Sudan becomes independent and with the warrant from the International Criminal Court hanging over his head.
Bashir was greeted by President Hu Jintao at the Great Hall of the People and given an honor guard reception.
Hu said he was very happy to see al-Bashir in Beijing.
"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."
Bashir thanked his hosts for his "warm welcome and treatment."
Their talks are expected to focus on challenges in the African nation ahead of south Sudan's independence 9 July.
Violence has escalated in areas contested by the north and soon-to-be-independent south, and China has said its wants both sides to peacefully settle the disputes.
South Sudan's declaration of independence next month will be the culmination of a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of civil war that killed more than two million people.
The violence also resulted in the war crimes charges against Bashir, the first against a sitting head of state until similar charges this week against Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi, who is accused him of crimes against humanity for killing civilians who rose up against his rule.
China is not a member of the court, based in The Hague, Netherlands, and has said the charges accusing Bashir of orchestrating atrocities in Sudan's Darfur could cause further instability in the region.
China has major oil investments in Sudan and has long had close ties with the leaders of the north. It has been courting support in the oil-producing south.
Several agreements are expected to be signed while Bashir is in Beijing. The China National Petroleum Corp., which signed a 20-year, multibillion-dollar development deal with Sudan in June 2007, signed an agreement Tuesday with the Sudan government to boost cooperation. A company statement did not give details.
Bashir's arrival in China was delayed a day after still not fully explained confusion over a flight plan.
Sudan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the official Sudan News Agency that Bashir's plane had been instructed to change its route while flying over Turkmenistan but was unable to do so, and instead returned to Tehran.