At 10:03 a.m. Tuesday, China's senior leader Deng Xiaoping emerged from the Eastern Hall of the Great Hall of the People and walked slowly along a red carpet to meet his arriving Soviet guest.
Heading toward him was Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who had arrived in Beijing a day earlier to bury 30 years of enmity between the two Communist neighbors."Welcome Comrade Gorbachev, I am happy we can meet each other," Deng smiled as he shook the Soviet leader's hand for more than a minute.
The greeting was cordial, if not quite brotherly.
Although he called Gorbachev "comrade," Deng did not offer the bear hug he gives to some foreign dignitaries who are his personal friends or from countries close to China.
The two leaders chatted briefly outside the Eastern Hall, with Deng at one point turning toward a crowd of photographers and remarking that the world was interested in the historic meeting.
The two leaders, Gorbachev in a gray Western suit and Deng wearing a Mao suit, then entered the ornate room to get down to business. Each sat in a plush chair, a table with an elaborate flower arrangement between them and two interpreters sitting just behind.
Deng, who at 84 is the grand old man of world Communism, did most of the talking at the beginning, lecturing Gorbachev, a generation younger at 58, about problems brought about by the superpowers.
At times, the Soviet leader leaned forward with hands clasped as he listened.
Although he stuttered and slurred some words, as he often does, Deng's voice grew stronger as the conversation progressed.
"To be frank, the key political problems of the world come from relations between the United States and the Soviet Union," said Deng. "For many years, the special characteristics of that situation were such that the arms race continued and did not abate."
Meanwhile outside, hundreds of thousands of people converged on China's central square Tuesday in the most serious challenge yet to a government reeling from a month of pro-democracy protests.
It was by far the largest gathering so far in Tiananmen Square, where crowds stopped traffic on a six-lane avenue and nearly surrounded the adjacent Great Hall of the People, which was protected by hundreds of troops and police.
Embarrassing China's Communist leaders, the protesters - about 3,000 of them on a hunger strike since Saturday - have refused to leave the square during the first Sino-Soviet summit in 30 years. The added attention from Gorbachev's visit seems to have encouraged them.
The crowd was estimated at more than 300,000, the largest crowd since pro-democracy demonstrations broke out on April 15.
And while the protest had no direct baring on the talks and both leaders announced a new era in relations between their respective governments and parties, they failed to make progress on the issue of establishing a transitional government in Cambodia once Moscow's chief Asian ally, Vietnam, withdraws its remaining troops in September, the official Xinhua news agency said.
The news agency said Li accepted an invitation by Gorbachev to pay an official visit to the Soviet Union but no date was agreed upon.