Kyrgyzstan eyes role in C.Asia-China gas pipeline

Tue Dec 4, 2012 11:14am EST

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By Olga Dzyubenko

BISHKEK, Dec 4 (Reuters) - Kyrgyzstan aims to join a natural gas pipeline network linking Central Asia with China in order to reduce its reliance on its immediate neighbours for energy and to profit from transit fees.

Kyrgyzstan's government has agreed with Beijing to discuss the country's inclusion in the 2,000-km (1,250-mile) pipeline network, launched in 2009, which pumps Turkmen gas to China through the former Soviet states of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

"Kyrgyzstan is very interested in having a fourth spur of the Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline pass through our territory," Kyrgyz Prime Minister Zhantoro Satybaldiyev said on Tuesday during a visit by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

He said Kyrgyzstan, which currently imports most its gas from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, hoped to realise such a plan "within the next three to four years."

The China-bound pipeline originates in Turkmenistan, which holds the world's fourth-largest natural gas reserves. Supplies along the route this year are forecast to reach around 9 billion cubic metres (bcm).

State-run China National Petroleum Corp has said it plans eventually to increase the pipeline's annual capacity to 60 bcm. Uzbekistan has started pumping small volumes along the route this year and Kazakhstan also plans to send its gas eastward.

China is extending its economic influence across its long, mountainous border with Kyrgyzstan as a counterbalance to U.S. and Russian influence in the impoverished Central Asian nation of 5.5 million people.

The United States uses an air base in Kyrgyzstan to ferry troops fighting in Afghanistan. Former imperial master Russia also has a military air base in the country and has signed deals to extend its military and energy footprint.

During Wen's visit to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and China also discussed the construction of a railroad to Uzbekistan and a new hydroelectric power cascade, as well as possible investment in a tractor plant.

In order to attract investment in mining and reduce dependence on Centerra Gold's Kumtor mine, which contributed 12 percent of GDP last year, Kyrgyzstan will also make geological data available to potential Chinese investors.

Speaking after the meeting, Altynbek Muraliyev, head of the Kyrgyz government's international cooperation department, said China had also agreed to lend $136 million on favourable terms for construction of a road to the Kyrgyz border with Tajikistan.

(Writing by Robin Paxton; editing by James Jukwey)

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