Putin calls for compromise in China gas deal

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Russia's prime minister called Tuesday for compromise on a huge gas deal with China that has been mired in disagreements over pricing, after meeting his Chinese counterpart in Beijing.

Vladimir Putin met Premier Wen Jiabao shortly after he arrived in Beijing for a two-day visit, his first foreign trip since he announced plans last month to reclaim the Russian presidency.

Russia is the world's largest energy producer, and plans to pump gas to China -- the world's top energy consumer -- were expected to top the agenda for his visit, during which he will also meet President Hu Jintao.

"As far as the as the economy and trade are concerned, issues of pragmatic nature are being resolved, and this is good," Putin told journalists after meeting Wen.

"Those who sell always want to sell at a higher price, while those who buy, want to buy at a lower price. We need to reach a compromise which will satisfy both sides."

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 talks have become bogged down in pricing disagreements, and Chinese state media has played down the prospect of any breakthrough on the long-delayed gas deal.

Putin arrived in Beijing a day after Russia and China signed 16 economic and trade deals worth over $7 billion, which China's foreign ministry said were "in the fields of technology transfer, research and development and mineral development".

It gave no further details of the agreements, which were signed at a summit Monday held ahead of Putin's visit.

China became Russia's top trading partner for the first time last year and the two countries want to nearly double trade to $100 billion by 2015 and then to $200 billion by 2020.

The Russian Prime Minister has paid frequent visits to China -- where he is very well known -- in his capacities as president and then prime minister since he took power in 1999.

However, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute says that China's dependence on Russia for arms and energy imports has declined and Moscow's position when dealing with Beijing has weakened as a result.

It pointed out in a report last week that China had found other partners in the oil and gas sectors in the Middle East, Africa or central Asia.

Russia and China set much store by their bilateral ties and are often viewed as partners in international diplomacy.

Both countries are veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council, and last week infuriated the West by blocking a UN resolution against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's deadly crackdown on protests.

On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow and Beijing were ready to propose a new UN resolution on Syria that would condemn violence carried out both by al-Assad's regime and the rebel opposition.

But some experts say that in reality there is little trust between the two countries.

Russia's security service the FSB revealed last week that it had been holding a Chinese national identified as Tong Shengyong for the past year on espionage charges linked to Russia's S-300 surface-to-air missiles.

Neither the Kremlin nor Beijing, a major purchaser of Russian weapons, have issued any comment, in a possible attempt to sideline the issue ahead of Putin's visit.

© 2011 AFP

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