03/22/2006, 00.00
CHINA – RUSSIA
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Growing Moscow-Beijing cooperation in energy field but suspicions linger

The two countries have agreed to build two major gas pipelines but not much progress has been made on the trans-Siberian oil pipeline to China. Arms trade is up, but suspicions linger. Meeting between China's Religious Affairs Bureau and Metropolitan Kirill is cancelled.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – At the end of his two-day visit to the Chinese capital, Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao pledged to co-operate more closely in the oil and gas fields. Mr Putin also vowed to go forward with a much-anticipated pipeline to carry Siberian oil to China.

Mr Putin promised yesterday to expand Russian energy supplies to China by opening two natural gas pipelines within five years.

Also on Wednesday, the head of Russian oil company Rosneft said it would launch joint ventures with China's leading oil firm to produce Russian crude and operate filling stations.

For years now China has been trying to find reliable energy supplies to fuel its spectacular, albeit undisciplined, economic growth. Now it seems to have found them.

Russian gas giant Gazprom has in fact signed a memorandum to build two gas pipelines to western and eastern China which would eventually supply 60 billion to 80 billion cubic metres of gas a year. China consumed about 39 billion cubic metres of natural gas in 2004.

Interfax news agency quoted a source in the Russian delegation as saying the pipelines would cost around US billion to build.

The two sides did not make as much progress, however, on the building of a long-awaited pipeline to send Siberian oil to China.

For Russia, a key project is the planned 4,100-kilometre Siberian pipeline to Nakhodka, on the Pacific coast. In 2003 it decided against a pipeline going directly into China, planning instead on a route to its own Pacific coast.

Even though Moscow has signalled its intention to build a branch into China, Mr Putin gave no details or timetable for that project during this week's trip. He just reiterated his country's pledge to the plan.

Still Beijing is determined to secure a southern spur line that would bring 600,000 barrels of oil a day to its industries. It has also complained about Russian resistance to mainland investment in Russia's energy sector with state-owned oil firm Rosneft the biggest prize

Mr Putin gave no sign on China's chances of owning part of Rosneft, but China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) appeared to take a step towards that goal with a deal to set up a joint venture. Rosneft and CNPC did agree that state energy firms from both countries would carry out a feasibility study to look at delivering electricity from Russia to China.

Co-operation between the two countries is not purely about energy but concerns international strategy as well, this according to Chinese analysts. Iran's nuclear programme and the six-nation talks about North Korea's nuclear weapons are cases in point.

None the less, Chen Yurong, from the China Institute of International Studies, said that media speculation that warming ties between Moscow and Beijing were targeted at the United States was "unfounded".

"The reason for the two countries to approach each other was mainly economic, apart from the need to safeguard a peaceful neighbouring environment for their respective development," she said.

Yu Bin, from the Shanghai Institute of American Studies, noted that trade volume reached a record high of US$ 29.1 billion last year. Russia's arms industry is busy filling Chinese orders, including those for jet engines, naval vessels, cargo planes and air-defence missile systems.

However, even if border disputes were officially ended in 2004, Russia's distrust of China goes back 300 years and Russians are still leery towards their powerful economic partner.

China, too, is showing signs that the love affair with its northern neighbour is wearing thin.

During Putin's visit, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, head of the External Church Relations Bureau of the Moscow Patriarchate and a member of the Russian delegation, was scheduled to meet officials from China's Religious Affairs Bureau in Beijing, but the March 21 meeting was cancelled without any reason given.

For some time, the Russian Orthodox Church has tried to be recognised as an official religion in China and get Chinese authorities to return many churches and buildings it owned before Mao's takeover.

Instead of talks the Metropolitan celebrated a prayer service in the former church of Saint Inokenty inside Russia's Beijing Embassy.

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