Neighbours on the brink of signing landmark deal
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said negotiations with China on a huge natural gas supply deal would soon enter the final stage, after talks with Premier Wen Jiabao yesterday, when both sides gave an upbeat assessment of bilateral ties.
Putin, on his first overseas trip since announcing last month that he was ready to return to the Kremlin, witnessed the signing of a series of documents with Wen on strengthening co-operation.
If reached, the natural gas deal would see Russia supplying 68 billion cubic metres of gas to China each year for the next 30 years, under a framework signed in 2009. Both sides are still working out pricing terms.
'We are nearing the final stage of work on gas supplies,' Putin said. 'As far as the economy and trade are concerned, issues of pragmatic nature are being resolved, and this is good.
'Those who sell always want to sell at a higher price, while those who buy want to buy at a lower price. We need to reach a compromise that will satisfy both sides.'
In remarks made at a press briefing after the talks, Wen said the two sides would promote co-operation in oil and natural gas based on a mutually benefit basis.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin said 'significant' progress was made in the gas talks with Vice-Premier Wang Qishan, but added that the gas deal must clear plenty of negotiating hurdles before it became a reality, Reuters reported.
The two sides vowed to co-operate on nuclear energy, gas field drilling and exploration, and building an oil refinery in Tianjin. They also agreed to step up joint border development and facilitate bilateral investments.
The talks between Putin and Wen were held after Russia and China signed 16 economic and trade deals worth more than US$7 billion at a summit on Monday.
China became Russia's top trading partner for the first time last year, with trade volume reaching US$59.3 billion. The two expect to boost trade to US$200 billion by 2020.
Wen pledged to advance pragmatic co-operation in various areas to spur development in both countries, and to make contributions towards global peace, stability and development, Xinhua reported.
'The visit of Putin and the prime ministers' meeting carry a significant meaning,' Wen said. 'Our talks are held in frank, friendly and pleasurable sentiment. The conditions for developing Sino-Russian ties are exceptionally gifted, and the opportunities ahead are unprecedented. I am fully confident about the future development of Sino-Russian ties.'
Tian Chunsheng, an expert on Russian affairs, said Putin would seek to strengthen political ties with China, given the difficulty in reaching the natural gas deal. 'The two may reach consensus more often on international political issues, and Russia may be more supportive of China when it is having problems on the global stage,' she said.
Putin's trip came amid concerns that Sino-Russian ties have weakened because China is less dependent on Russia for arms and energy imports, a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said.
Russia also revealed last week that it had been holding a Chinese national for the past year on espionage charges related to its S-300 surface-to-air missiles.
A commentary published by the overseas edition of People's Daily said Putin's visit was significant as he had announced his intentions to return to the Kremlin.
Putin will meet President Hu Jintao and National People's Congress Standing Committee chairman Wu Bangguo today.