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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Helicopters and Oil for Hu in Kazan

KAZAN -- Chinese President Hu Jintao toured a plant that makes one of Russia's most-advanced helicopters and got a crash course on Tatarstan's oil as he wrapped up a multibillion-dollar visit Wednesday.

While Tatarstan, the last stop on Hu's three-day visit, hopes China will invest in its economy and jointly produce the Ansat helicopter, at least one local trade official was not holding her breath. She said she had learned that bureaucracy was worse in China than in Russia.

After overseeing more than $6 billion in deals in Moscow, Hu met with Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiyev for talks that did not yield any firm agreements, a Shaimiyev spokeswoman said.

"They are getting acquainted and walking around," the spokeswoman said.

A Shaimiyev spokesman said the two leaders had discussed ways to boost business and cultural relations, particularly through Tatarstan's Alabuga free economic zone. "It looks like the Chinese are interested," said the spokesman, Airat Zaripov. He declined further comment.

China is expected to invest $12 billion in Russia over the next 13 years, and "a significant part" of the money could go to Tatarstan industries such as petrochemicals and machine building, Rossia television reported from Kazan.

Shaimiyev said in televised remarks that oil and textiles were industries that Tatarstan wanted to develop with Chinese.

Accompanying Hu and his delegation on a tour of the Kazan Helicopter Plant, Tatarstan's top trade official, Khafiz Salikhov, said the plant was looking to join forces with the Chinese.

"We are talking about establishing cooperation, including the creation of a joint assembly plant in China," he said.

Plant general director Alexander Lavrentyev said his plant had been holding talks for the past six months with a large Chinese company to assemble the Ansat, a new, multipurpose helicopter.

"What they will result in, I don't know," he told reporters, adding that a sticking point was deciding the joint venture's ownership structure.

He declined to name the Chinese company, saying only that it was located in a free economic zone in southeast China.

The aircraft is Russia's only fly-by-wire helicopter, meaning it is controlled by an electrical interface rather than mechanically.

Ruslan Pukhov, director for the Moscow-based Center of Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, suggested that the Chinese had turned to the Russians to cut costs but added that the low cost was Russia's only competitive advantage. If talks fail, the Chinese could turn to Eurocopter, a subsidiary of Europe's aerospace giant EADS, he said. "The Chinese are extremely tight-lipped and tough negotiators," he said.

The Kazan plant has sold 186 helicopters to China since the 1950s but did not sell any last year. Lavrentyev said he hoped the plant would restart sales next year or in 2009, adding that China was interested in military helicopters such as the Mi-17-B5. From 1958 to 1979, China produced 545 Mi-4 helicopters under license, a project that gave birth to China's own helicopter-building industry, the plant said in a statement.

For Hu's visit, the plant was emptied of most of its workers and decorated with a sign reading, "Long Live Russian-Chinese Friendship."

But some people at the plant expressed suspicion about the guests. "About 50 years from now, Year of Russia in China festivities will be celebrated on this territory," said a plant worker who refused to give his name. Many ordinary Russians are fearful of China's growing economic clout in Russia's border regions.

The local trade official said talks with the Chinese were inching along. "It's very hard to map out any projects with China," she said by telephone. Bureaucracy in China is even more widespread than in Russia, she said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, noted that talks with Chinese carmaker Great Wall over an assembly plant had dragged out for several years. The company announced in 2005 that it was ready to spend $70 million to produce its Hover off-road vehicle in Russia.

Great Wall chairman Wang Fengying said Wednesday that the company was now waiting for the Economic Development and Trade Ministry to allow it to work in the Alabuga zone, Interfax reported. Wang said the company hoped to start assembling cars by year's end.

Hu, accompanied by Deputy Premier Wu Yi and other delegates, also visited an exhibition of local wares, the local Kremlin and met with students.

The first stand at the exhibition was for regional oil firm Tatneft, where the Chinese were told about local efforts to increase crude production.

"They spent the longest time at the Tatneft stand," said Lira Tazetdinova, a spokeswoman for the republic's trade department.

Nail Ibragimov, Tatneft's first deputy general director, showed off plans for a petrochemical plant and a refinery in Nizhnekamsk, Interfax reported.

But no talks between the officials from energy-hungry China and Tatneft took place, and no deals were struck, Tazetdinova said.

A Tatneft spokeswoman, Nuriya Valeyeva, said the Chinese had expressed interest in the stand but declined further comment.

Local electricity provider Tatenergo invited the Chinese to help modernize the republic's power system.

At Kazan State University, students greeted Hu with Chinese, Russian and Tatarstan flags. Rector Myakzyum Salakhov said a new institute named after Confucius would be opened.

"Here students from all Kazan universities will be able to delve into studies of Chinese language, culture and economics," Salakhov said.

More than 100 Chinese are studying at local universities, and some 60 students at Kazan State University are studying Chinese.

Staff Writer Anna Smolchenko reported from Moscow.