Beijing - Chinese President Hu Jintao said on Wednesday that relations with Sudan would remain good no matter what changes may occur as the African nation prepares for its south to secede.
Hu told Sudan's war crimes-indicted President Omar Hassan al-Bashir that China hoped north and south Sudan could resolve their problems through dialogue and become friendly neighbours.
"China upholds a friendly policy towards Sudan, and this policy will not change regardless of changes internationally or in Sudan's domestic situation," state news agency Xinhua paraphrased Hu as saying.
Chinese officials have said that talks during the visit would take up the July 9 planned secession of south Sudan, a split that will see the northern government in the capital of Khartoum lose three-quarters of the country's oil output of about 500 000 barrels a day.
China is a major buyer of Sudanese crude oil, and is keen to ensure the partition of Sudan into two states will not descend into fighting that could disrupt supplies and damage Beijing's stake on both sides of the new border.
Bashir, who called Hu his "friend and brother", said Sudan hoped to maintain stability between the north and south of the country, Xinhua quoted him as saying.
Sudan's Foreign Minister Ali Karti told a news conference that Bashir needed to come to China at this time to offer assurances that their traditional ties and strong business links would continue.
"We are here to give reassurances to our friends in China that those engagements and agreements regarding those investments are respected," Karti said.
China support for Bashir
"There was... a need for us to tell our friends here in China that Sudan, having those considerable changes... does not mean Sudan will change its policy toward China."
Sudan also appreciated China's support for its president, who is facing a warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC) over war crimes charges stemming from fighting in the Darfur region of Sudan, the foreign minister added.
"We had assurances during the two days from all leaders we have met that China will support Sudan with regard to the ICC case," Karti added. "It wasn't news to Sudan, but it was reassurance in a time when you need a friend like China to speak loudly and talk about this matter."
China has shrugged off calls from human rights groups calling for Bashir's arrest, and has said it has "serious reservations" about the war crimes charges.
Bashir had been due to arrive on Monday in China, one of the few country's willing to host him.
His meeting with Hu was pushed back two days after what the Chinese Foreign Ministry called "technical problems" forced a change in his aircraft's flight plan.
Bashir has found no shortage of friends in Beijing while extolling China for its help in developing Sudan's energy infrastructure.
CNPC brought peace
During a visit to China's state-owned oil and gas giant, China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), Bashir praised China's role in extracting his country's energy resources.
"CNPC has not only brought us oil, it has also brought us peace," he told CNPC general manager Jiang Jiemin on Tuesday, according to a statement posted on Wednesday to the company's website.
Bashir and Hu signed an agreements to deepen oil and gas co-operation and for preferential loans after their meeting, but no details were given.
Hu said China would encourage its companies to invest in mineral exploration and extraction in Sudan, Xinhua added, also without providing details.
Sudan was China's sixth biggest source of imported crude oil last year, when it supplied 12.6 million tons, compared with 44.6 million tons from the top supplier, Saudi Arabia.
China has been building ties with the emerging state in southern Sudan but remains a major supporter of Bashir, including acting as Khartoum's top arms supplier.