Energy 'to fuel warmer ties' for Russia, China
Shi Jiangtao in Beijing
Siberian oil pipeline high on the agenda when Putin calls on Hu next week
China and Russia are set to expand their energy co-operation this year, with possible oil deals high on the agenda for a presidential summit during Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Beijing next week.
Mr Putin's two-day visit from Tuesday will mark the start of a 'Year of Russia' in China, with more than 200 political, economic, military and cultural programmes planned to highlight warming ties, say officials on both sides.
'Co-operation in energy sectors, including oil and gas, will be a priority, considering China's rapid economic growth and rising power demand,' said Sergei Razov, Russia's ambassador to Beijing.
He said Mr Putin and President Hu Jintao would discuss a possible oil pipeline which could carry Siberian oil to China.
'I hope the two heads of states will make some new agreements on energy co-operation issues during the visit.'
Russia has become a main supplier of oil to China, with Moscow agreeing to send a total of 15 million tonnes of crude oil to the mainland this year via rail links.
Chinese officials have eyed resource-rich Russia for future oil supplies in recent years and have been competing with Japan for access to a pipeline from Siberia.
The Russian ambassador said PetroChina and Russian monopoly Transneft were in talks on the possibility of building a branch of the pipeline to China.
The two countries are also working on a joint exploration scheme for Siberian gas, to which China is also keen to have access, and a nuclear power plant in Lianyungang , their biggest economic co-operation project.
The presidents will also discuss growing military co-operation, trade ties and international issues such as disputes over the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programmes, according to Assistant Foreign Minister Li Hui .
Mr Li and Mr Razov played down trade differences between the two countries.
'Although there are problems in key areas that need to be addressed through joint efforts by the two sides, there are plenty of fields where we can co-operate,' Mr Razov said.
Last year the two countries held their first joint military exercises off China's coast, fuelling American fears over China's rising military power. The pair refused to elaborate on the five military items included in the 207 projects planned for the 'Year of Russia'.
'The five projects are all very interesting concerning friendly co-operation and exchanges between the two militaries,' Mr Li said.
Mr Razov dismissed media interest in Sino-Russian military ties as 'unnecessary', adding that 'military co-operation is not the most important [or] the largest in scale in the bilateral ties'.
He defended last year's joint drill and said it was needed for the international campaign against terrorism. 'The drill was not directed against any third party and its main purpose was to enhance peace and stability in the region as well as in the world.'
China and Russia have urged a diplomatic solution to the crisis over Iran's nuclear energy programme, which coincides with Mr Putin's visit.
'We both believe we need to seek political solutions to the issues through diplomatic channels,' Mr Razov said.
'Russian and Chinese co-operation has played an important role in keeping the Iran nuclear issue on the track towards a diplomatic solution.'
Mr Li and Mr Razov hailed their countries' close co-operation on major international issues.
China and Russia both support an early resumption of the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programme, which were halted due to a financial dispute between the US and North Korea.