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China's Hu Kicks Off Central Asian Energy Tour

Presidents Hu Jintao (left) of China and Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan officially open a pipeline in Astana.

Energy will dominate Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Central Asia.

Hu arrived today in Kazakhstan on the first leg of a three-day regional visit intended to cements Chinese control of Central Asia's vast energy resources.

In the Kazakh capital of Astana, Hu attended the inauguration of the Kazakh section of a new pipeline that will pump Turkmen natural gas to China.

Smiling broadly, he pressed a button to symbolically launch the roughly 1,800-kilometer pipeline stretching through Central Asia into western China's restive Xinjiang region.

On December 14 Hu, together with the presidents of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, will formally open the pipeline.

The pipeline project, with a planned capacity of 40 billion cubic meters of gas a year, will ease Turkmenistan's dependence on Russia as a transit country.

Russia purchased as much as 50 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas per year before cutting imports in April over a pricing dispute that cost Turkmenistan an estimated $1 billion a month. The two sides have yet to agree on new supply terms.

China has helped the isolated former Soviet state partially offset its losses by granting it a $3 billion loan to develop the South Iolotan field, one of the world's largest natural gas-deposits.

Beijing has spent heavily across Central Asia this year, including $10 billion in loans to Kazakhstan. In return, China was able to secure a stake in Kazakh oil producer MangistauMunaiGas.

compiled from agency reports