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PUTIN'S VISIT TO CHINA: Question marks remain over oil supply

Two days of talks are capped by signing of border pact and other deals but there is no announcement about oil pipeline

BEIJING - Russian President Vladimir Putin met several top officials in Beijing yesterday, winding up two days of official talks which were rich in symbolism but left unanswered many key questions about energy supplies to China.

Mr Putin's largely ceremonial meetings with Parliament chief Wu Banguo and Premier Wen Jiabao followed extended talks on Thursday with President Hu Jintao which were crowned by the signing of a historic agreement on border demarcation and another on Beijing's support for Moscow's accession to the World Trade Organisation.

The two leaders also inked 13 documents, including a common, tough position against terrorism.

Mr Putin yesterday arrived at the city of Xian, home of the famed Terracotta Warriors, to discuss prospects of cross-border cooperation with heads of north-western Chinese provinces.

During his meeting with Mr Hu, Mr Putin also outlined an ambitious plan to boost bilateral trade from US$15.7 billion now to US$60 billion in 2008.

Despite his calls to Chinese partners to increase the quota of high-tech investments in bilateral trade, Russian officials said off the record that supplies of oil and expected sales of natural gas to China would remain dominant.

However, Russia's reputation as a reliable partner was called into question just weeks before Mr Putin's visit when embattled oil major Yukos, whose main production unit Yuganskneftegaz faces sale to cover a multibillion-dollar tax bill, slashed supplies to China.

The company, whose former head Mikhail Khodorkovsky faces trial on fraud and tax evasion charges, said its supplies to China National Petroleum Corporation this year by rail could reach only 5.5 million tonnes, instead of the planned 6.6 million tonnes.

Russian government officials, heavily pressed last month by visiting Premier Wen, have promised to fix the problem by late this month.

Another project of the disgraced Yukos - to run an oil pipeline to deliver at least 30 billion tonnes of oil - stalled after Mr Putin said he would rather have it running to the port of Nakhodka on Russia's Pacific coast.

Members of Mr Putin's delegation said the pipeline was not discussed in detail during the talks in Beijing. -- Reuters

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