BEIJING (Reuters) - China and Russia will hold talks aimed at advancing a proposed gas deal while Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visits Beijing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Monday, although Russia said no deal would be signed.
Putin's two-day visit to China from Tuesday will be his first foreign trip since revealing plans to reclaim Russia's presidency. He could seek to narrow the price disagreements that have stymied Russia settling a 30-year deal to supply China with up to 68 billion cubic meters of gas per year.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told a daily news conference that during Putin's visit, Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan would hold a fresh round of energy cooperation negotiations with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin.
The tortuous gas negotiations have been a reminder that, despite frequent professions of brotherly goodwill between Moscow and Beijing, relations are held back by mutual distrust, especially on the Russian side, extending back to the Cold War, when border disputes almost erupted in full-fledged war.
Liu did not comment directly on any prospects for a gas agreement. The export chief of Gazprom, the Russian gas supplier, told Reuters last month that the five-year-old negotiations might not end this year.
"Chinese-Russian energy cooperation is an important part of the two countries' strategic cooperation," said Liu.
"The meeting between Deputy Prime Minister Sechin and Vice Premier Wang Qishan will allow more thorough exchanges of views on energy cooperation," he added.
In Moscow, a senior government official later said Putin had no plan to sign a gas pricing deal during his visit.
"The signing of the gas pricing deal is not planned at this point," Yuri Ushakov, the government's deputy chief of staff, told reporters.
Ushakov said that a delegation of officials, experts and energy sector executives, headed by Sechin, was already in Beijing to discuss a wide range of issues, including future gas supplies from Russia.
Chinese ministry spokesman Liu did not directly comment on the contentious issue of a Chinese national who Russian authorities last week said faced charges of suspected military espionage.
"I won't make specific comment about the specific situation you raised," he said in answer to a reporter's question about the case.
The Chinese citizen is accused of trying to buy sensitive material on a Russian anti-aircraft missile system while working as a translator, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said, according to the state-run RIA news agency.
It said the suspect was detained in October last year. Prosecutors filed charges of espionage with the Moscow City Court last week.
China joined Russia last week to block a proposed U.N. Security Council resolution that Western powers backed to condemn the bloody crackdown in Syria.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Additional reporting by Gleb Bryanski in Moscow; Editing by Robert Birsel)