03/26/2007, 00.00
RUSSIA – CHINA
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Hu in Moscow to strengthen political and economic ties

The three-day state visit coincides with the start of the Year of China in Russia. For Beijing Russian oil and gas are important, but so are trade and military cooperation. Moscow, too, has its eyes turned eastward. Both countries want to reduce US role.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Chinese President Hu Jintao’s three-day state visit to Russia begins today. Their agenda includes energy and trade but also strengthening the Sino-Russian alliance against the United States. Still, China’s growing presence in Siberia is raising eyebrows in Russia.

In Moscow Mr Hu will be accompanied by Trade Minister Bo Xilai and Deputy Premier Wu Yi. Their visit is taking place to coincide with the opening ceremonies of the Year of China in Russia, an important exhibit on China, scheduled for Wednesday. Presidents Hu and Putin are also expected to sign economic agreements on the same day.

Energy issues are at the top of their discussions. The two sides are set to sign contracts worth more than US$ 2 billion, including a deal to increase imports of crude oil by rail from Russia, Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Li Hui said.

Sino-Russian trade hit a record US$ 33.4 billion last year, up 14.7 per cent, but that is only 2 per cent of China's overall trade and a fraction of that with the United States.

Russia has the world’s largest reserves in natural gas and is the world second oil exporter, especially to Europe. But Russian oil and gas are essential to Beijing. And acess to markets in the East is of growing importance to Moscow as well.

A pipeline to be completed by 2015 should deliver 1.6 million barrels per day to the Russian Pacific Ocean port of Nakhodka across from Japan and near Korea. Beijing wants the pipeline to reach China as well but so far has not been successful in convincing the Russians.

Russian oil exports run close to 5 million barrels per day, but only a small fraction, 320,000 barrels per day, went to China by rail in 2006. Saudi Arabia, Angola and Iran each export more oil to China than Russia, despite the fact that the two share a 4,200 km-long border.

Once rivals having fought a border war in 1969, the two have renewed ties only recently. Their border dispute was settled in 2004 with the signing of a treaty.

In addition to trade, the two sides want closer political cooperation, partly to reduce the influence of the United States in the region. So far in the Iranian nuclear stand-off they have used the threat of their veto power to limit United Nations sanctions against Tehran.

Both countries are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, an increasingly important intergovernmental organisation that includes Central Asia countries as well as India, Iran and Pakistan as observers.

Russia is also China’s main arms supplier. Last year the two countries held their first joint military manoeuvres and Mr Li announced that they would do so again this year.

Tens of thousands of Chinese businessmen now live and work in cities across Russia's vast Siberian territories. For the Siberian economy their arrival has been a boon, but Moscow does not want them to take over the economy.

The issue is not however expected to be dealt with at the current summit. (PB)

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