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Russian PM begins China visit, $1 trillion gas deal on agenda

By Haolan Hong and Jaime FlorCruz, CNN
October 11, 2011 -- Updated 1007 GMT (1807 HKT)
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin walks past an honor guard after arriving at Beijing International Airport on October 11.
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin walks past an honor guard after arriving at Beijing International Airport on October 11.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin arrives in Beijing on two-day visit
  • Talks expected to include negotiations on natural gas deal worth $1 trillion
  • Experts say economic cooperation will dominate the meeting agenda
  • Marks Putin's first state visit since announcing his intention to contest Russian presidency

Beijing (CNN) -- Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin arrived in Beijing Tuesday, kicking off a two-day visit to China, his first state visit since announcing his intention to contest the Russian presidency next March.

Aside from meeting his counterpart Chinese premier Wen Jiabao in the 16th Regular Meeting between the two Prime Ministers, Putin will also meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and other Chinese leaders.

Talks are expected to include negotiations on a natural gas deal worth $1 trillion that has been stalled by disagreements over price. The deal would see Russia supply China with up to 68 billion cubic meters of gas every year.

"If the deal can be reached, the trade volume will increase significantly, and this will change the fact that the economic cooperation between the two countries lags behind the political cooperation," said Zhao Huasheng, director of the Center for Russia and Central Asia Studies at Fudan University.

Putin backed for 2012 presidency

"Together with cooperation in other economic fields, China and Russia will become real strategic partners in economic terms."

Putin's arrival in Beijing comes less than three weeks after he announced his bid to reclaim the Russian presidency next year.

"The fact that Putin may become next Russian president indeed adds some political color to this visit, and its impact on bilateral relation will definitely go beyond the impact of a regular state visit," Zhao said.

"The meeting to some extent will set the keynote for the China-Russia relation in future. It can be described as the start of China-Russia relation in 'new Putin era'," he added.

Experts say economic cooperation between the two countries will dominate the meeting agenda.

"Since this is mainly a meeting between the two premiers, this visit will be mainly about expanding the economic cooperation and improving trade structure," said Jiang Yi, vice director of Research Center for Russian Diplomacy at China Academy of Social Science, the country's top think tank.

Recent years have seen a steady increase in trade volume between the two countries. According to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, bilateral trade volume in the year to July increased by 37.4% to a record $42.2 billion compared to the previous year. The ministry forecasts that the bilateral trade volume will reach a new record in 2011, in excess of $70 billion.

Among all the economic agendas, energy cooperation stands out as the main focus between Russia, a major energy exporter, and China, the world's biggest energy consumer, according to a 2010 report from the International Energy Agency.

According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, during Putin's visit, Chinese vice Premier Wang Qishan will hold an energy negotiation meeting with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin. "Chinese-Russian energy cooperation is an important part of the two countries' strategic partnership," said Liu Weimin, spokesperson of Foreign Ministry, on Monday during a regular press conference.

Putin brings with him to China a group of 160 business leaders, including the CEOs of Russian energy giants Gazprom, Rosneft and aluminum producer UC RUSAL.

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