China and Russia are expected to push forward energy co-operation and show that they are still close partners when Prime Minister Vladimir Putin arrives in Beijing for a two-day visit tomorrow.
Putin will meet Premier Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao, and the Foreign Ministry says the two nations will aim to expand co-operation in a wide range of areas, including close co-ordination on international issues as two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Experts expect a natural-gas supply deal, which has been discussed for almost three years, to be the focus of the talks. The two sides signed a framework agreement in 2009 on the shipment of 70 billion cubic metres of Russian gas each year through two pipelines linking eastern and western Siberia with Chinese cities.
Hopes that the deal could be finalised were high when Hu visited Moscow in June. But no major breakthrough was achieved, and the two sides are still divided on pricing.
Russian gas monopoly Gazprom says China should pay a tariff close to the European level, but Beijing, which has signed similar deals with Australia and Central Asian countries, does not agree. Gazprom deputy chairman Alexander Medvedev said last month that Moscow and Beijing had agreed on a price formula for Russian gas exports but added 'there is still the issue of what is the starting point of that formula'.
Professor Zhang Jianrong of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences said China was hopeful of a breakthrough in the deal, with expectations that Putin will be elected Russian president again next year.
'Putin vowed to build the gas pipelines when he was president. And therefore, there are expectations he will give a political push to the deal,' Zhang said.
However, analysts say the deal is unlikely to be finalised this week, although the two sides may reach consensus on other energy co-operation, such as nuclear energy.
China and Russia have shown they share similar views on various international issues and most recently combined to veto a Security Council resolution criticising Syria's bloody crackdown on protesters. But Putin's visit comes amid concerns that Sino-Russian ties are strong only on a superficial level.
A report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has suggested that China is now less reliant on Russia after modernising its military and reaching energy co-operation deals with more countries, prompting some Russians to fear that their military technology might be copied by Chinese.
Tian Chunsheng , a Beijing-based Russia affairs expert, said the two countries will still seek closer co-operation despite mutual mistrust and suspicion. Tian said China also wanted to get a glimpse of how Putin will shape bilateral ties.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev proposed last month that Putin stand as a presidential candidate next year, almost guaranteeing his return to the top office four years after he stepped down, having served a maximum two consecutive terms.
Tian said Medvedev's stance in international relations is regarded as pro-Western, while that of Putin is considered relatively anti-Western and more focused on strengthening ties with the Asia-Pacific region.
'China wants to see if there will be any change to Russia's policy towards China when Putin returns to office,' she said.
Zhang expected Putin would get closer to China and aim to attract more Chinese investment because of the economic downturn in the United States and Europe.
The two sides will also discuss the handling of the European debt crisis and how the BRICS countries, which also include Brazil, India and South Africa, will strengthen co-operation, Zhang said.
'The two sides will stress that they will keep co-operating on major international issues and that their stances on such issues are close to each other's,' he said.