China signed deals Tuesday to produce and import natural gas from Turkmenistan, a major step in the realignment of the resource-rich central Asian country away from its former rulers in Russia, a news report said.
Details of the deals, signed during a visit to Beijing by Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov, were not immediately available, said Dow Jones Newswires.
The report comes amid a flurry of deals by Chinese government oil and gas companies to explore for and develop energy sources in former Soviet republics, Africa and elsewhere.
China has been in talks to buy 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year from Turkmenistan and neighboring Kazakhstan to be delivered through a new pipeline to feed China's surging demand for energy.
Turkmenistan's natural gas reserves of 2.8 trillion cubic meters, the second-biggest among all ex-Soviet republics after Russia, are a major prize in the region.
Turkmenistan has been forced up to now to export its gas through Russia and Ukraine, which have their own gas companies that have squeezed out their smaller rival.
Turkmenistan is eager to break free from Russia's influence and sees exports to China as one solution.
Turkmenistan and China signed an agreement in April 2006 to build the pipeline and are negotiating prices.
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