CHINA CHOOSES TURKMENISTAN (La Cina sceglie il Turkmenistan)

China National Petroleum Corporation signed a 30-year deal to increase purchases of natural gas from Turkmenistan by 30 percent, Chinese media reported - a landmark agreement for Beijing as it competes with Moscow for access to Central Asia's energy wealth.

"This agreement is very important for ensuring a stable, long-term and adequate supply of gas for this pipeline," Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang said at an official signing ceremony, according to the state-run newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan.

Li Keqiang met with his Turkmen counterpart to sign the contract, which increases gas deliveries to 40 billion cubic meters (52 billion cubic yards) annually, the newspaper reported.

The deal comes amid strained relations between Turkmenistan and Russia, which usually buys most of the Turkmen gas for onward sale in Ukraine and Europe.

Turkmenistan lashed out against Russia following an explosion in April at a gas pipeline linking both countries, and it appears Moscow underestimated the fallout from that event, notes U.K. newspaper The Guardian.

With the agreement, China has moved one more step along its bid for Central Asia’s energy resources — and ultimately toward expanding its geopolitical influence over the wider region.

Moscow, previously a major purchaser of Turkmen gas, could be losing out to cash-rich China in the race to secure energy commitments in Central Asia.

Earlier this year, Russia moved to reduce its gas imports from Turkmenistan because of plunging demand and prices in Europe.

China sees Turkmenistan as a more politically reliable supplier than Russia, which has a well-known tendency to use energy as leverage for geopolitical concessions. Furthermore, pre-existing infrastructure in Turkmenistan means the Turkmen deal could prove cheaper than the Russian deal, even if Turkmen natural gas is more expensive. And finally, China wants access to Central Asia’s energy, and Turkmenistan is a critical piece of the pie.

Meanwhile, China appears ready to invest some $3 billion to develop the South Yolotan gas field, one of the world's largest as Russian gas monopoly Gazprom announces a 30 percent cut in capital investments.

Turkmenistan holds more than 700 trillion cubic feet of estimated natural gas reserves.

Work on a 7,000-kilometer (4,300-mile) pipeline from Turkmenistan to China is expected to be finished by the end of the year.

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