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Hu to visit Russia to boost 'strategic partnership'

Updated: 2007-03-25 16:18
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MOSCOW -- China's President Hu Jintao comes to Moscow on Monday on a visit intended to bolster cooperation between the two nations, who struggle to add economic substance to their burgeoning political and military ties.

Russia and China seek a coordinated approach to global crises. However, trade between the economically thriving neighbors is far outstripped by China's commercial ties to the United States, Japan and South Korea.

"The claim that the Chinese are settling in Russia's empty lands in large numbers is an overstatement. Many come to work but only a few stay," said Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee who has close links with President Vladimir Putin's administration.

China has shown a growing demand for Russian energy resources, but other trade has been sluggish, much of it involving clothing, toys and cheap electronics. Bilateral trade stood at US$36 billion (euro27 billion) last year, just about 2 percent of China's total trade volume. Hu told Russian media this week that the two nations could bring it to US$60-80 billion (euro45-60 billion) a year in 2010.

After years of bargaining, Russia decided to build a pipeline from eastern Siberia to its Pacific coast for exports to Japan and other nations that would have a spur to China's northeastern city of Daqing. The project, however, has remained dogged by uncertainty and its prospects remain unclear.

"There is still a long way to go between statements and real action," said Vladimir Portyakov, the head of Center for Chinese Studies at the Institute of the Far East. Part of the problem is that eastern Siberian oil fields would need huge investment to explore, he said.

On his trip to China last year, Putin also announced plans for building a pair of natural gas pipelines to China within five years. Some experts voiced skepticism, saying that western Siberian gas reserves are already stretched thin and used for gas delivered to European Union countries.

While Russian officials said the EU would remain the main export market for Russia's gas, the Kremlin warned that it could shift some of the supplies to China as part of its hard bargaining with the EU over energy issues. "China and Europe are becoming rivals for Russian gas," Kosachev said.

Masking frictions and uncertainties, Hu will open a "China Year in Russia" -- an officially sponsored program of cultural exchanges intended to showcase mutual goodwill.

Russian and Chinese officials said the nuclear bids of Iran and North Korea and cooperation in the fight against terror will be on the agenda of Hu's visit, along with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional grouping participated by China and Russia.

A shared commitment to a "multipolar world" remains a key element cementing bilateral ties.