Chinese president in Kazakhstan at start of ex-Soviet tour

13th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

President Hu Jintao held talks Monday with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev on the first leg of a tour of ex-Soviet states which China hopes will result in new energy deals.

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.

In Kazakhstan, Hu will be looking to tighten energy-hungry China's ties with the hydrocarbon-rich Central Asian nation which has already seen Beijing pump billions of investment dollars into its economy.

Kazakh mining giant Kazakhmys signed an agreement Monday with the China Development Bank for a $1.5 billion credit to develop the Aktogay copper mine in the east of Kazakhstan, the Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency reported.

Hu and Nazarbayev were due to speak to reporters after their talks and the two sides were to issue a joint statement, officials said.

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

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