Chinese President Xi Jinping told Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that Beijing is willing to offer a “helping hand” to Russia to face "external challenges." The two leaders met on Thursday ahead of a two-day meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a six-nation regional security group, in Tajikistan.

The meeting was the fourth one this year between the two leaders, who are trying to establish closer relations, and came in the wake of fresh sanctions slapped against Russia by the European Union on Friday, Agence France-Presse, reported. The meeting, which later included Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, also saw Xi make a proposal to build a trilateral economic corridor between China, Mongolia and Russia, called the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative.

"I am willing to maintain close communication with you and help the two sides enhance mutual support, expand two-way openness and offer each other a helping hand, so as to jointly deal with external risks and challenges and realize our respective development and revitalization," Xi said, ahead of the summit, according to Xinhua.

Xi said that both countries are seeing an increased level of cooperation and added that further alliances could be considered in sectors like oil and gas, and nuclear energy.

In May, Putin visited China and signed a 30-year gas deal with Beijing worth $400 billion. The move came as Moscow is looking to diversify its customer base in Asia due to the enhanced risk of selling its gas to Europe, a major customer, amid the crisis in eastern Ukraine. The two countries have also launched large-scale projects, including the joint development of long-range wide-body passenger jets and heavy-lift helicopters. 

The West has accused Russia of, and slapped sanctions against it for, destabilizing eastern Ukraine by supplying arms to pro-Moscow separatists, but Russia has denied the allegations.