Vladimir Putin commits to gas supplies for China but no agreement on oil pipeline

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced plans Tuesday to step up energy supplies to China with a gas pipeline opening within five years, but there was no word of an agreement to build a separate pipeline sought by Beijing to deliver Siberian oil to its energy-hungry economy.

A Russian minister said Moscow would finance a feasibility study for the oil pipeline and can't offer a construction timetable until the study is done.

The announcements came after Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, met for the fifth time in less than a year and pledged to promote political and trade ties between the former Cold War enemies, which say their relations are at their best point ever.

Beijing wants to secure access to Russian oil and gas, while the two sides have built up a political alliance to counterbalance U.S. dominance in global affairs.

The gas pipeline will deliver up to 80 billion cubic meters (2.8 trillion cubic feet) of gas annually, Putin told reporters. He didn't give any details about its route or pricing. But Russia 's Interfax news agency, citing an unidentified source in his delegation, put the possible cost at up to US$10 billion (8 billion euro).

Moscow and Beijing want to spur investment and double last year's US$29 billion ( Ђ 24 billion) in trade by 2010.

China is a leading buyer of Russian oil, which for now is delivered by railway tank car, and is the top foreign customer for Moscow 's arms industry.

Many observers had expected news about the 4,100-kilometer (2,550-mile) Siberian pipeline to the Pacific coast. Both Tokyo and Beijing have maneuvered hard to secure a favorable routing.

"There can be no talk of `when' until a feasibility study is completed," said Viktor Khristenko , Russia 's minister of industry and energy.

In a 13-page statement, Putin and Hu pledged to promote links between their energy, telecoms, transportation and other industries.

Putin endorsed China 's claim to Taiwan , the self-ruled island that Beijing says it part of its territory.

"The sides express decisive support for one another's policies and actions in the questions of defending state sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity," the statement said. " Russia will continue the policy (supporting) 'one China ' declared by the Chinese government ... and Taiwan is an indivisible part of China ."

Putin said gas for the new pipeline would come from fields in both eastern and western Siberia .

But the commitment might be a politically motivated promise that Moscow can't keep, because western Siberian reserves are already stretched thin, according to Valery Nesterov, oil and gas analyst with the Troika Dialog investment bank in Moscow .

"I don't see where Russia in the foreseeable future can pile up these resources," he told The Associated Press.

Nesterov said the announcement might be meant to strengthen Moscow 's bargaining position with European gas buyers who might want to find other suppliers after its spat with Ukraine over prices.

" Russia is saying it has markets. In a way, it's a form of pressure on Europe ," he said.

Putin was accompanied by a 90-member delegation of leaders of Russia 's state-owned Rosneft oil company and Gazprom gas monopoly, as well as aircraft, telecommunications and other industries.

Earlier Tuesday, Putin and Chinese Vice Premier Tang Jiaxuan attended the opening of a media center to promote an upcoming Russian cultural year in China .

On Wednesday, the Russian leader a black belt in judo was scheduled to visit Shaolin, the Chinese town regarded as the birthplace of the martial art kung fu.

China and Russia have pledged commitment to a "multipolar world" and last year warned other nations against attempts to dominate global affairs and interfere in sovereign nations' domestic matters.

The Hu-Putin meeting comes after Washington released a foreign policy review last week that expressed dismay at rollbacks in democratic reform in Russia and warned China against denying personal and political freedoms, reports the AP.

D.M.