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China’s Xi calls for greater cooperation with Turkmenistan on natural gas

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BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Friday he wants more cooperation with Turkmenistan on energy, Chinese state television reported.

Turkmenistan, a Central Asian nation of six million people, is China’s single largest supplier of piped natural gas.

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“Natural gas cooperation is the cornerstone of the China-Turkmenistan relationship,” Xi told Turkmenistan’s President Serdar Berdymukhamedov, who is in Beijing on a two-day visit.

Chinese media reports of their meetings did not give any specific details of future energy cooperation between the two countries.

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Xi and Berdymukhamedov also discussed energy cooperation when they met last September on the sidelines of a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Uzbekistan.

China has been buying more Turkmen gas. For the first 11 months of 2022, China’s imports of Turkmen gas were valued at $9.3 billion, up from $6.79 billion in the whole of 2021, according to Chinese customs data.

China is estimated to have imported 23.03 million tonnes of gas from Turkmenistan in the first 11 months of 2022, according to Rystad Energy, equivalent to more than 50% of China’s piped gas imports.

“Because of the large transmission volume and its abundant gas reserves, it’s (Turkmenistan) a very important partner to China on energy imports. Unlike its Central Asian peers Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, which sometimes reduce or cut flows, flows from Turkmenistan to China have been much more stable over the years,” said Wei Xiong, a senior analyst at Rystad.

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Turkmen gas is pumped to as far as China’s eastern coast via three trunklines spanning 1,833 kilometers (1,139 miles) and passing through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Both countries are pushing ahead with a planned fourth pipeline – the 1,000-km D line which also links Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan – which will eventually lift the annual supply capacity from Central Asia to 85 billion cubic meters (bcm) a year from the current 55 bcm, Chinese state media have reported.

Rystad’s Xiong forecast that Turkmenistan’s gas flows to China would grow to nearly 70 bcm by 2023, up from over 30 bcm in 2021, after the D line commences operations.

At Friday’s meeting Xi and Berdymukhamedov agreed to elevate bilateral ties to a “comprehensive strategic partnership.”

This would place Turkmenistan in the same diplomatic category as about 30 other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Australia and Venezuela. (Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Beijing newsroom; Additional reporting by Chen Aizhu and Emily Chow in Singapore; Editing by Tom Hogue and Gareth Jones)

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