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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sino-Russian Trade Deals Signed

BEIJING -- Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and his Chinese counterpart, Li Peng, presided over the signing of billions of dollars in deals Friday, taking a giant step to boost lagging Sino-Russian trade ties.

Among the deals was a $7 billion framework agreement to supply energy-thirsty China with natural gas from a field in Russia's Irkutsk region, and a $1.5 billion pact to supply electricity to the Chinese northeast, Russian sources said.

The two leaders also put their pens to a protocol that seeks to put gains in trade between the two former foes on par with recent successes in the political sphere.

"These agreements will lay the basis for further concrete deals in order to realize this aim of reaching $20 billion in trade by the year 2000," said one Russian source.

Trade between the giant neighbors was just $6.8 billion in 1996, and both sides have said they want to increase that to $20 billion by the next century, a goal diplomats have said the natural gas deal would help to achieve.

"The Russian side considers this project as of strategic importance," the Russian source said.

The field would be tapped by Russia Petroleum, a grouping of Russia's Sidanko oil firm and South Korea's East Asia Gas Co. Ltd., a member of the Hanbo Group.

The deal called for Sino-Russian cooperation in building a huge pipeline to link the field with northeastern China, one diplomat said, adding that final details had yet to be worked out.

"South Korea will join the project in the form of some kind of construction and will share some of the financial debt," one source said.

China, once a net exporter of oil, has forecast oil imports could reach 50 million metric tons a year by 2000 as rapid economic growth fuels demand for energy.

Among other deals signed Friday was a railroad agreement that seeks to increase Sino-Russian rail freight by allowing Russian railcars to run directly on Chinese rails, a feat now impossible because of different rail gauges in the two nations.

Chinese and Russian businessmen also signed deals for two joint ventures, including one to make Russian-designed trucks in northern China, according to a statement from the Russian Embassy.

Another pact called for the creation of a technology and science development zone in Russia, though no details were provided. Li said the accords would strengthen ties between the Asian giants, who have pledged to forge a "strategic partnership" during a series of high level official visits over the past year.

"Further expanding and deepening cooperation in trade and science will establish and develop the basis for the two countries' strategic partnership going into the 21st century," state television quoted Li as saying.

Sino-Russian ties have gradually warmed since 1989, when the two formally patched up relations after years of territorial disputes and a struggle for leadership of the communist world.

The political warming led to an April meeting in Moscow between presidents Jiang Zemin and Boris Yeltsin, where they outlined visions of the post-Cold War order.

Chernomyrdin's three-day visit is scheduled to end Saturday.