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Russian Energy and Industry Minister Viktor Khristenko on Friday avoided saying whether Japan or China would be first to get a crude oil pipeline connection with eastern Siberia.

During a meeting with Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura, the two ministers agreed to continue exchanging ideas on how the two sides could cooperate in building a pipeline from eastern Siberia to Perevoznaya on Russia’s Pacific coast that would “meet the interest of both nations.”

Khristenko’s cautious reaction came just days after he told Japanese reporters in Moscow that his government would build a 2,400-km branch pipeline to transport oil to China before constructing a main pipeline that would carry oil for Japan.

“It is not about choosing between the China route or the Pacific route” for the Japanese market,” Khristenko told reporters after Friday’s meeting.

Khristenko said only a pipeline would end at the coast of the Pacific Ocean and did not elaborate on which route Moscow would build first.

“It is extremely important politically and economically for Russia to ensure access from eastern Siberia to the Pacific coast,” Khristenko said.

“Russia has in mind rapidly growing countries in the Asia-Pacific region when realizing our strong desire to diversify markets for selling its oil.”

The neutral comments are believed to be a tactic to encourage competition between Japan and China to rake in more financial assistance for the Russian projects.

In an attempt to convince Russia to build a route for Japan first, Machimura stressed that building the pipeline would nurture a closer relationship between the two Far East countries.

“We will do our utmost” to support the project, Machimura said.

Earlier on Friday, trade minister Shoichi Nakagawa said he had pressed Russia to complete the 4,180-km pipeline before starting work on the competing branch pipeline to northern China.

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