China says 'progress' made in Russian energy talks
China said Monday that energy talks with Russia had made "new progress" ahead of an official visit by Vladimir Putin, as the two countries try to iron out disagreements over a major gas deal.
The Russian Prime Minister is set to meet with his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao on Tuesday and Wednesday, as he travels to China with a 160-member delegation.
"China-Russia energy cooperation is an important component of our bilateral strategic partnership," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said.
"The mechanism has been running well and new progress and achievements have been made," Liu said.
Russian gas giant Gazprom and China National Petroleum Company signed a framework agreement in 2009 that could eventually see almost 70 billion cubic metres of Russian gas sent to China annually for the next 30 years.
But a firm contract has so far proved elusive as talks have become mired in pricing disagreements and, contrary to expectations, Hu's June visit to Moscow failed to deliver a breakthrough.
It was unclear whether Liu was referring specifically to that agreement, but he said energy negotiators on both sides had had a working meeting prior to Putin's arrival.
On Monday, China's vice premier Wang Qishan and state councilor Liu Yandong met with Russian deputy prime minister Alexander Zhukov to "exchange views on how to further deepen bilateral energy cooperation," he said.
Russia, the world's largest energy producer, and China, the world's largest energy consumer, set much store by their bilateral ties.
Putin has paid frequent visits to China in his capacity as president and prime minister since he took power in 1999.
His latest visit to Beijing follows last month's announcement that he plans to reclaim the presidency in a bid that may keep him in power until 2024.
© 2011 AFP