THE KEY NUMBER we don’t know in China’s insert-your-own-very-large-number-here energy deal with Russia is the unit price state-owned China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) will be paying. CNPC has finally signed the agreement to buy up to 38 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year from Gazprom for 30 years starting in 2018 (a new pipeline has to be built first). This Bystander hazards a safe guess that Beijing has got itself a very good deal.
The sale has always been necessary for Moscow to wean itself off its dependence on European markets for its energy sales, but merely convenient for Beijing, which has several sources other than Eastern Siberia from which it can meet its growing need for energy, especially cleaner energy than can be generated from its indigenous coal. After 10 years of negotiations between CNPC and Gazprom that have mainly been haggling over the formula that will determine the pricing, all that has changed is the situation in Ukraine. That has given a renewed sense of urgency to Russia’s need to secure non-European markets, while President Vladimir Putin’s two-day visit to China provides the platform from which to announce the deal with political benefits to both himself and his host. President Xi Jinping and CNPC’s chairman Zhou Jiping will have taken full advantage of that.