Putin to meet Wen for major talks

BEIJING: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was set to meet his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao in Beijing on Tuesday for talks expected to result in a raft of lucrative trade and energy agreements.

Putin, who arrived late Monday, was also due to meet President Hu Jintao as the two sides seek closer ties, and attend a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a regional security grouping.

It is the Russian leader's first visit to China as prime minister, although he visited four times previously as president.

The Russian government said the agreements due to be signed included one committing each country to notifying the other of the launch of ballistic missiles from its territory.

Others include various Russian-Chinese trade deals and a memorandum of understanding on developing high-speed train travel on Russian territory, the Russian government said in a statement in Moscow on Sunday.

Despite a rocky Cold War relationship, Sino-Russian ties have grown markedly since the collapse of the former Soviet Union, with Russian energy and military sales driving the relationship.

Bilateral trade between the giants grew to nearly 48 billion dollars in 2008, nearly double the volume in 2004, according to Chinese figures.

"Besides deepening the strategic political partnership, Putin's visit will certainly advance bilateral cooperation in energy," Shi Yajun, an expert on Sino-Russian relations at the East China Normal University told AFP.

"Progress is likely to be made in a natural gas pipeline project as well as in nuclear energy."

The two sides in 2006 signed an initial agreement on a pipeline to supply China with up to 80 billion cubic metres of natural gas annually, earlier press reports said.

But negotiations over the pricing of the gas have reportedly remained a major obstacle to a final deal.

Relations between Moscow and Beijing -- once bitter foes during the Cold War -- have a complicated history, and Russia has been watching China's growing economic and political might with a mixture of awe and unease.

Still, in a message on communist China's 60th birthday on October 1, Putin and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev hailed Moscow's "strategic partnership" with Beijing, a term usually reserved for its closest allies and friends.

During Putin's visit, the two nations -- both permanent members of the UN Security Council -- are also expected to coordinate international diplomacy, especially how to respond over the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programmes.

On Wednesday, Putin will attend a heads of government meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a group dominated by China and Russia that has been touted as a counterweight to Western-led institutions.

Moscow has touted the meeting as set to adopt an "important document" on joint efforts to combat the effects of the global financial crisis.

The SCO also includes four ex-Soviet Central Asian countries -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- while India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan have observer status.