China, Kazakhstan eye doubling of trade
China and Kazakhstan on Monday signed a strategic partnership deal and vowed to double trade as President Hu Jintao visited the energy-rich Central Asian state to tighten already close ties.
Hu held talks with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev on the first leg of a tour of three ex-Soviet states which China hopes will result in a slew of new energy deals and increase its influence in the region.
"We are entering a new level of partnership and this is a solid basis. It completely meets the interests of our countries," Nazarbayev said after the strategic partnership agreement was signed.
Details of the accord were not released but countries like China and Kazakhstan normally only reserve strategic partnerships for their very closest allies.
Nazarbayev said that last year trade volume exceeded $20 billion and in the first quarter of this year turnover already exceeded $5 billion.
Hu said that by 2015 the two sides now planned to "increase trade turnover to $40 billion".
Kazakhstan's vast energy and metal reserves are hugely attractive for neighbouring energy-hungry China and Nazarbayev also said that a previous accord to deliver Kazakh nuclear fuel to China would be implemented this year.
China over the last years has also been pumping billions of dollars of investment into the Kazakh economy.
Mining giant Kazakhmys signed a memorandum of understanding Monday with the China Development Bank for a $1.5 billion credit to develop the Aktogay copper mine in the east of Kazakhstan.
"This funding will allow us to develop Aktogay and yet retain full ownership of the asset," said Oleg Novachuk, chief executive of Kazakhmys.
In a packed week-long programme, Hu will attend a regional summit here in the Kazakh capital Astana, visit Russia for talks with its leaders and a top economic forum and end with a stop in Ukraine.
On Wednesday the Chinese president is due attend the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Group (SCO) -- a regional security group seen as a rival of NATO -- at a meeting that will also include the Russian and Iranian presidents, Dmitry Medvedev and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Hu is hoping his visit to Russia will see the signature of a massive contract for state-controlled giant Gazprom to deliver gas from western Siberia to China for the next 30 years.
The two sides last year already signed an initial agreement for the deal, which would mark a breakthrough for Gazprom's goal of reducing its dependence on European customers for its supplies.
Officials have expressed hope the deal could be signed at the Saint Petersburg Economic Forum this week, where Hu is to be the guest of honour.
However the Interfax news agency quoted a source as saying last week that talks had reached a "critical stage" due to a last-minute dispute over pricing.
In Ukraine, which is energy-poor compared with Kazakhstan and Russia, Hu will be looking to further bolster China's influence in the strategic nation which it has quietly but significantly cultivated in recent years.
© 2011 AFP