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What China wants from Putin

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin left China Wednesday at the end of a two day visit lauding Chinese-Russian ties.

Chinese President Hu Jintao (r.) and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pose prior to the talks trumpeting the Chinese-Russian ties at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Wednesday.

Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/AP

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Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin left China Wednesday at the end of a two day visit trumpeting the two countries’ close political ties, but apparently only marginally closer to sealing a troublesome natural gas deal that could earn Moscow $1 trillion.

The Russian leader, keen to broaden his nation’s economic ties with China beyond energy supplies, signed away $7 billion in deals ranging from mining to space exploration. But Beijing’s key concern remained the stalled gas contract.

“China is one of the biggest energy consumers in the world and Russia has huge oil and gas reserves. We need each other,” says Li Xing, a Russia expert at Beijing Normal University.

The deal to provide China with 68 billion cubic meters of gas a year for 30 years, in the works since 2006, has foundered on price. Gazprom, the Russian gas company, wants the same price as it earns from customers in western Europe. China says that is too expensive.

“The market conditions are not the same in China,” says Chen Yurong, a researcher at the China Institute of International Studies, a Foreign Ministry sponsored think tank. “China can only import Russian gas at a price people can afford.”

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