The first stops of overseas trips by new leaders are always watched closely for signs, signals and symbolism. It was always going to be doubly so for Xi Jinping, the head of state of the world's most dynamic nation, as he took his first steps on the international stage in Russia. But those looking for cryptic messages and hidden meaning have been disappointed. The visit was about the most transparent of matters, a strategic partnership. That Russia was chosen was unsurprising. Xi's trip, while keeping with past diplomatic practice, took in the geopolitical realities of the 21st century. Beijing and Moscow share concern about US intentions in their backyards and have common interests and goals. There are a host of economic and political benefits for their moving closer. But while seeing eye-to-eye on foreign policy matters like non-intervention in Syria's civil war, the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea and what should happen in Afghanistan after Nato-led forces pull out next year, they are not in full agreement on all issues. Although Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a slew of trade and investment deals, they failed to agree on an item for some time high on China's want list - a pipeline that would deliver up to 68 billion cubic metres of gas annually for 30 years. Still, that was no bar to the president portraying the relationship in the most glowing of terms. The bond between China and Russia is, he told students in Moscow, one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world, providing "strategic balance to global order". Xi's making Russia the first stop of a trip that also takes in Africa, shows the importance China attaches to the relationship. Improving ties has been made a priority and effort should be put into developing other areas of mutual interest, technology, aircraft manufacture and agriculture among them. From their co-operation can also come a partnership to work for a better world. Their objective should be peace and stability, not bitter competition and rivalry to the US and others.