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    BEIJING STILL HOPEFUL MOSCOW WILL OPT FOR CHINESE PIPELINE ROUTE

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    BEIJING, April 8 (RIA Novosti) - "The construction of a Russia-China oil pipeline would be of great political importance for stimulating Sino-Russian strategic partnership," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said at a news briefing in the capital of Beijing Wednesday. He was referring to Russia's project to build a pipeline for transporting Siberian oil to the Far East.

    Kong Quan said the Chinese side was interested in the soonest possible construction of the pipeline, seen by China as one of the largest and most ambitious economic projects between the two countries. Along with bringing them substantial economic gains, the project would also benefit strategic political partnership between the two countries, he noted.

    Russia has two route options to choose from, one leading from Angarsk, near Lake Baikal, to the northern Chinese city of Daquing and the other, to the Russian Pacific port of Nakhodka. This latter route has been offered by Japan.

    Work on the project has been underway for a decade, and all official documents have by now been signed, Kong Quan said. In 2002, however, Transneft [a Russian government-owned company involved in the project] unexpectedly announced that it was going to reroute the pipeline to Nakhodka, on the Pacific Coast, with an additional line branching off to Daquing, he lamented.

    The decision did not come as a complete surprise, though. Mikhail Kasyanov's Cabinet was known to be leaning toward the Japanese option, that is, the one via Nakhodka.

    The new Russian Cabinet has not made its choice yet, but already Natural Resources Minister Yuri Trutnev has publicly questioned the feasibility of Transneft's decision from the point of view of Russia's long-term economic interests.

    In choosing between the routes, the Russian side should compare the amount of probable oil reserves in the two regions, the minister pointed out. In reply to a RIA question as to whether any environmental studies had been done yet, Trutnev said such a study was now nearing completion and that preliminary assessments were positive. But economic benefits should be taken into account as well as environmental hazards, he emphasized.

    According to Trutnev, the Cabinet plans to meet with the Transneft top management shortly in order to discuss the feasibility of the Angarsk-Nakhodka route, the one that the company prefers.

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