China's President Jiang Zemin has arrived in Russia on a visit intended to cement the "strategic partnership" between the former Communist rivals with a pivotal friendship treaty.
The agreement that Jiang and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to sign after talks in the Kremlin tomorrow will be the first of its kind since 1950, when Josef Stalin and Mao Tse-tung forged a Chinese-Soviet alliance that later turned sour.
Russia and China have recently found common ground in opposing Washington's plans to develop a nationwide defence against ballistic missiles.
Coming after the successful test of a US interceptor missile, the summit will be closely watched for the two leaders' reaction to Washington's defence plans.
Both Russia and China claim the proposed American missile shield would upset the strategic balance and trigger a new global arms race.
"The friendship and cooperation treaty which I am going to sign with President Putin has a historic importance," Jiang said in statement distributed after his arrival on the four-day visit.
"It will lay a firm foundation for long-term, healthy and stable development of Chinese-Russian relations in the new century."
Jiang's visit follows the International Olympic Committee's decision on Friday to give Beijing the 2008 Olympic Games.
Putin, who sent him a telegram of congratulation, said: "It's symbolic that such an important decision was made in Moscow just before the historic visit."
So far, Russia and China have emphasised that their "partnership" is not an alliance aimed against the US or any other country. But analysts claim Russia is in a position to help Beijing accelerate its military building by providing more sophisticated weaponry.