Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin left China on Wednesday after a visit that yielded $7 billion in trade pacts but no breakthrough on a long-delayed gas deal with the world's top energy consumer.
Putin held talks with his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao in Beijing on his first foreign trip since he announced plans to reclaim the Russian presidency.
Energy cooperation tops Putin's agenda, and it is indeed the lubricant that could accelerate the complicated Sino-Russian partnership. Differences over pricing have stalled a trillion-dollar deal for the sale of Russian gas to China. Whether Putin garners the promising trends in the protracted negotiations to strike a deal is one point of great interest to the world economy.
Russia is the world's largest energy producer; China the largest energy consumer, and Putin said progress had been made on a 30-year deal to pump gas to China that was signed in 2009 but has been mired in disagreements over pricing.
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.
However, a firm contract has so far proved elusive as talks have become bogged down in pricing disagreements.
China's foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said on Monday that "new progress and achievements" had been made in energy talks, but did not specify whether he was referring to the major gas agreement.
Sino-Russian relationship has been attracting much international attention since China became Russia's top trading partner for the first time last year, and the two countries want to increase trade from $70 billion this year to $100 billion by 2015 and $200 billion by 2020.
Additionally, China's sovereign wealth fund signed a deal during Putin's visit to invest in a new Russian state-backed fund, to encourage foreign direct investment in Russia.
The China Investment Corporation will put $1.0 billion into the Russian Direct Investment Fund, founded in June with backing from Putin and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Analysis: Russia-China: still gassing about gas [Financial Times, 11 Oct 2011]
Report: Vladimir Putin expected to lay out foreign policy on China visit [Telegraph, 11 Oct 2011]
Although there is no agreement on the gas deal, China and Russia are agreeable on the international diplomacy front. China and Russia are both veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council, and last week infuriated the West by blocking a UN Security Council resolution condemning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's deadly crackdown on anti-government protests.
The resolution would have been the first such legally binding move adopted by the security council since President Bashar Assad's military began using tanks and soldiers against protesters in mid-March. The UN estimates there have been more than 2,700 civilian deaths.
The European sponsors of the resolution had tried to avoid a veto by watering down the language on sanctions three times, to the point where the word "sanctions" was taken out. The eventual vote was 9-2 with four abstentions: India, South Africa, Brazil and Lebanon.
It is the first double veto by Russia and China since July 2008 when they rejected proposed sanctions against Zimbabwe. In January 2007 they both vetoed a resolution against the Burmese regime.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said this week Moscow and Beijing were ready to propose a new UN resolution on Syria that would condemn violence carried out both by Assad's regime and the rebel opposition.
No mention of the resolution was made during Putin’s visit to China, but China on Wednesday broke with its longstanding policy of non-interference in Syria to press for prompt reforms.
Report: China and Russia veto UN resolution condemning Syria [BBC, 5 Oct 2011]
Report: Russia, China veto U.N. resolution condemning Syria [Reuters, 5 Oct 2011]
Report: China and Russia veto UN sanctions on Syria [Al Jazeera, 5 Oct 2011]