Prague, 14 October 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Beijing today for a visit during which Chinese leaders are expected to press for increased access to Russian energy resources.
President Hu Jintao welcomed Putin at the Chinese leadership's Zhongnanhai residence in Beijing. Setting a friendly tone for the visit, Putin and Hu were joined by their wives and neither wore a tie -- a first for Hu, who normally dresses formally on official occasions.
Hu and Putin met later at the Great Hall of the People, the seat of China's legislature. Details of the meeting were not immediately released.
Putin's visit coincides with the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and China. Asian affairs analyst Vassily Mikheev of the Carnegie Moscow Center told RFE/RL the visit is an opportunity to assess the strength of Sino-Russian relations.
"Russia is a large and growing supplier of energy to China, which has increasing demands in this regard and is import-dependant." -- Adam Ward of the London-based Institute for International Strategic Studies
"During this period of 10-14 years, Russia and China passed away from rivals to partners, and now, practically, we do not have serious problems in our bilateral relations. I mean those problems which need high-level political interference and political breakthroughs," Mikheev said.
Analyst Adam Ward of the London-based Institute for International Strategic Studies told RFE/RL that the visit is likely to focus on two key issues.
"One of them is energy. Russia is a large and growing supplier of energy to China, which has increasing demands in this regard and is import-dependant," Ward said. "The second aspect is usually defense technology. And here again, China has been reliant on Russia for many years now for the kinds of advanced defense technologies which China indigenously cannot produce for itself."
Energy appears to top the agenda. Chinese imports of Russian crude oil soared more than 70 percent last year to 5.25 million tons.
But Beijing has recently expressed frustration with Moscow's failure to commit to building a long-planned pipeline to carry Siberian crude to China's northeast.
China and Japan are competing for the $2.5 billion pipeline. The Chinese want the pipeline to reach the northeastern town of Daqing, while the Japanese want the pipeline to bypass China, routing it to Russia's Pacific port of Nakhodka to facilitate shipments to Japan.
Adding to Chinese concern, troubled Russian oil giant Yukos suspended rail shipments of 100,000 barrels per day to China in September, and the company says it won't resume them until 20 October.
Beijing has appealed to Moscow to ensure that Yukos restore the shipments, which account for 60 percent of the company's oil supplies to China.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said today that during a September trip to Moscow by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, China and Russia had signed tentative agreements to increase Russian oil shipments by rail and to seek a settlement of the pipeline issue.
Referring to the pipeline issue yesterday, Putin effectively denied the outright endorsement for its plans that China was looking for, stating that Russia would act in its own national interest.
Analyst Ward said Russia faces a dilemma in balancing its relations with China and Japan. He said that Moscow has been reluctant to commit itself one way or the other for fear of upsetting either party.
"Russia and China over the last several years now sought to define their relationship as a kind of a strategic partnership," Ward said. "They have characterized it often in political terms as a partnership designed, for instance, to dilute the influence of the United States in world affairs. But when you begin to look into the substance of these claims from a Chinese perspective, there is a degree of disappointment that often Russia tends to act in its own interests rather than in the spirit of the partnership which they have articulated between them."
Beijing, however, is making efforts to maintain good economic relations with Russia. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said one document to be signed during the visit will "clearly express China's support" for Russian membership in the World Trade Organization, which Beijing joined in 2001.
Russian officials say the talks will also involve the fight against terrorism, an issue that Putin addressed yesterday in an interview with the Chinese media.
"In order to efficiently and successfully fight this common evil [of terrorism], we must join forces; we must learn to speak with the same voice and we must -- as we agreed with our Chinese partners -- avoid a double standards policy when we define what terrorism is," Putin said.
Ward noted that both Russia and China face separatist movements -- Russia in Chechnya and China in its Xinjiang Autonomous Province -- and have common interests in cooperating on fighting terrorism.
"Both Russia and China are engaged in the counterterrorism issue through their involvement in organizations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is an organization focused on Central Asia that seeks to improve border security -- borders across which terrorists might travel -- and seeks to encourage intelligence cooperation on those issues," Ward said. "China, of course, sees itself as having a problem in its western provinces [such as Xinjiang] with Uyghur militants who are Islamists or their aspirations are essentially independence-based. Russia can certainly sympathize with many of the problems that China has and China sympathizes with the Russian problems in this regard."
During Putin's three-day visit, the two sides plan to sign more than a dozen documents covering cooperation in oil and gas, banking, borders, and other issues. The visit is Putin's third to China and his first since he was reelected in March.