China Launches Landmark Central Asia Gas Pipeline

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"The new pipeline is Central Asia's first major gas export route that completely bypasses Russia"

A landmark pipeline from Central Asia to China began pumping natural gas Monday, marking Beijing's latest coup in its search for new sources of energy to fuel its burgeoning economy.

The new pipeline is Central Asia's first major gas export route that completely bypasses Russia, and will play a key role in getting former Soviet republics in the region out of Moscow's exclusive economic sphere of influence.

Completed in just over two years, the first stage of the Turkmenistan-China pipeline has been wrapped up before work on rival Russian and Western projects to tap into Central Asia's gas riches have even started.

The route stretches around 1,800 kilometers (1,120 miles) from Turkmenistan through Uzbekistan up to Kazakhstan's border with China and then extends more than 4,500 kilometers (2,800 miles) into China itself.

Turkmen gas deliveries to China through the pipeline are expected to hit around 6 billion cubic meters next year, and those supplies will increase incrementally every year until they reach 40 billion cubic meters in 2015.

The pipeline -- which has been built by more than 8,000 workers over the past 27 months -- is China's latest success in a vigorous campaign to seize as many energy assets as possible across Central Asia.

"China gives the highest priority to cooperation between our neighbors and this pipeline is witness to the uninterrupted cooperation that continues to flourish between our nations," Chinese President Hu Jintao said Monday.

This year alone, China has pledged multibillion dollar loans to both Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan as part of its bid to secure energy assets and drilling rights in the two countries.

Looking ahead, China is eyeing at the gargantuan South Yolotan natural gas field near the Afghan border. An independent audit by a British company last year said the field may be one of the five largest in the world.

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