China, Turkmenistan agree on gas pipeline
BEIJING/ASHGABAT, Apr 4 (Reuters) China and gas-rich Turkmenistan have signed a deal to build a natural gas pipeline linking the two countries by 2009, Turkmenistan's state media reported on Tuesday.
The deal, signed on Monday, will see the Central Asian state provide 30 billion cubic metres of gas annually to China for 30 years.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao confirmed a deal had been signed by Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing on Monday but gave no details.
''The gas pipeline will come on stream in 2009,'' the official Neutral Turkmenistan newspaper reported. ''The price for the gas will be set on a sensible and fair basis, taking into account comparable prices on the international markets.'' It was not clear how the pipeline, which will run from Turkmenistan through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to China, could be built quickly enough to start operating in 2009.
A feasibility study of the project had previously said it would take around six years to build and cost more than billion.
Turkmenistan has relied on giant Russian gas company Gazprom to pipe its gas to customers in Europe, especially Russia and Ukraine. The China pipeline may help the Central Asian country diversify customers.
Niyazov, in power since 1985 when Turkmenistan was a Soviet republic, has cultivated a cult of personality since independence. He styles himself ''Turkmenbashi'', or father of the Turkmen.
China's Hu said Niyazov was a good friend and called his six-day visit to China that began on Sunday a milestone.
China is increasingly turning abroad to fuel its booming economy. In March visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled a gas pipeline agreement with China.
REUTERS CS BS1916