Russia-China Oil Pipeline Hanging in the Air

Chinese leader Hu Jintao and Russia President Vladimir Putin are trying not to tease the USA at negotiations
Although this visit of Hu Jintao to Russia is his first one in the role of the Chinese leader, it won't be an "epoch-making" one. A vector of Russia-China relations' development has been outlined long ago; the countries are maintaining a political dialogue and develop economic and military relations. So, people close to the Chinese government say that the visit will be rather a formal acquaintance, however, accompanied with ordinary routine typical for such visits. Although Hu Jintao and Vladimir Putin already know each other, this is the first meeting of a wide scale. 

Both leaders will have enough time for communication in the network of the visit, during a Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in St.Petersburg, during the festivities dedicated to the 300th anniversary of Russia's northern capital and then at the Evian summit. The Chinese Foreign Ministry calls a meeting of Hu Jintao with G8 leaders "an informal meeting of leaders of the North and the South." But, although French leader Jacque Chirac invited the Chinese leader to the G8 summit in Evian, this doesn't mean at all that the G8 is transforming into G9. This international club joins leaders of developed democratic countries; Russia was admitted into the club as a country following a democratic development line. But this definition doesn't refer to China so far.

The program of the visit was developed long ago. Hu Jintao is lucky that the visit itself has started at a moment when a SARS peak is already over. If the visit was to take place a month ago, it would be held against an "atypical" psychological background (which in its turn would be unfavorable for the Chinese delegation). Now, when the situation has stabilized, Russia President Vladimir Putin congratulates the Chinese colleague on the victory that the country has almost gained over SARS.

Unfortunately, both sides cannot congratulate each other on success in the international sector. As the Iraqi conflict has revealed, it is a one-polar world that has come up instead of a multi-polar one. The idea of a multi-polar world may be still mentioned during briefings organized for journalists, but no joint declaration will be signed on the problem during the visit. The parties won't either tease the USA with chimeras of a hypothetical anti-American union that may arise. Each of them really cares for relations with the USA (they have their particular reasons for this attitude). Moscow's attitude toward Beijing is getting more cautious and pragmatic. At that, Russia takes its strategic interests into consideration and takes account of the West. President Putin's state of the nation address didn't touch upon China as well as upon a multi-polar world. What is more, Beijing is getting lots of significant messages with the following idea: China is not the only country in Asia; Russia is going to balance China's military power with supplies of warplanes to Malaysia and other countries of the region; Russia will also strengthen defense cooperation with India (let's take the Navy and Air Force exercises in the Indian Ocean for example), and so on.   

The situation is practically the same in the economic sphere as well. A Russian-Chinese oil pipeline going from Angarsk to Datsin has been lobbied by Russia's oil company YUKOS for a rather long period already. Recently, the Russian government has transformed it into a wider route that will go from Angarsk to the Russian port of Nakhodka with a branch going to China. A pro-Chinese group in the Russian Foreign Ministry is dissatisfied with this variant of a pipeline and says that position of the Russian government concerning the oil project is rather mysterious. The Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov promises to explain how the pipeline branching will operate as soon as a concept of Russia's oil and gas complex is adopted. For the time being, Beijing is still naming the oil pipeline as a Chinese one; they specify at that, the pipeline will go to Datsin first, and only after that a branch may go to Nakhodka if Russia has enough money, oil and opportunities for realization of this idea. In any case, it is obvious that here in Russia the oil project resulted in collision of too many interests, political, economic and regional. And Moscow took every effort to explain the situation to China: Beijing will have to wait until a consensus is reached here in Russia; in any case, it won't be able to influence the situation from outside.

It is not ruled out that during his visit to Russia Hu Jintao may touch upon the problem with reference to strategic partnership that the countries have claimed to be aiming at. The organizers of the visit say that the program includes minimum of economic aspects. It is expected that large-scale projects that Russia and China plan to realize will be discussed at a forthcoming meeting of prime ministers of both countries; these projects will be on the agenda of sessions held by governmental commissions and subcommittees that are to be held before the meeting of prime ministers.

Yeugeny Verlin
Nezavisimaya Gazeta

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Author`s name Michael Simpson