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Chinese Pipeline to Cross Kazakhstan

Chinese President Hu Jintao ended his official visit to Kazakhstan yesterday. Hu and Kazakh President Noursultan Nazarbaev signed a package of documents on the building of pipelines between Kazakhstan and the People’s Republic of China, the most important ones of which would transport Turkmen gas to China and a new line on the Atasu-Alashankou oil pipeline.

Hu arrived in Astana Friday evening from the Peace Mission 2007 military exercises in Chebarkul, Russia. He observed the Kazakh parliamentary elections and praised Kazakh democracy to journalists. When it opened in December 2005, the Atasu-Alashankou oil pipeline was the first oil pipeline from Central Asia to China, with a capacity of 10 million tons per year. Now a second line will be built to link China with deposits in the Caspian Sea. The operator of the new line on the Chinese side will be CNPC, which bought PetroKazakhstan in August 2005 for $4.18 billion. The new line will probably be made operational next year and is promised by the Kazakh president to reach full capacity by 2011.

In addition, the Kazakh and Chinese leaders announced that the gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China, to be built under an agreement Hu reached with Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in July, would pass through Kazakhstan. That pipeline is to be completed by 2009 and begin pumping 30 billion cu. m. of gas to China per year. The agreement on the oil line did not specify its route when it was signed in Beijing.

On August 14, while Hu was in Bishkek for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Almazbek Atambaev, who had been forced to borrow money from China to accommodate the summit, asked him to route the pipeline through Kyrgyzstan, even offering to invest in the project. The Chinese president responded evasively but with good disposition. On August 16, however, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev did not, as he was expected to, announced the expulsion of the American air base at Manas Airport in Bishkek in his speech to the summit. Apparently, Kyrgyz authorities decided not to come into conflict with the US, probably after last-minute promises of US aid. (