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China disillusioned with Central Asian gas; switches to Russian gas

Alexander Mercouris

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As the giant Power of Siberia pipeline intended to transport natural gas from Yakutia and the Irkutsk areas of Russia to China approaches completion, with Gazprom saying that it is now two-thirds complete, the semi-official Chinese newspaper Global Times has published an article complaining about irregularities in the supply of gas from China’s traditional Central Asian gas suppliers, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The sharp drop of liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments through a key Central Asian pipeline network has put the already-tight domestic LNG supply situation to the test.

There are two reasons for the plunging shipments: first, LNG demand increased in the supplier countries themselves; second, the suppliers were withholding LNG in hopes of getting better prices in other markets. Those factors prompted the suppliers to break the terms of their contracts with China.

According to a statement by China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) issued on January 31, the nation’s LNG supply situation has been deteriorating. The volume of LNG received through central Asian pipeline networks has fallen by nearly half, domestic news portal jiemian.com reported. The sudden cuts by two Central Asian countries, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, added a new risk to the Chinese energy supply network. China needs to re-evaluate the security of its energy supply network in Central Asia.

According to insiders at China’s three major State-owned oil companies, the Central Asian countries failed to provide China with the contracted volumes of LNG with the excuse that they didn’t have enough money to repair broken LNG equipment. A notice issued by CNPC stated that Central Asian countries owe China an average LNG volume of 30 million cubic meters per day, according to jiemian.com

Sources also said that China National United Oil Corp is negotiating with these LNG suppliers. But it seems that Chinese oil companies have no bargaining chip if the suppliers don’t keep their end of the deal. Instead of China, the suppliers can potentially send LNG to Europe at a higher price.

The cut in LNG supplies has added a new risk factor to China’s energy security, with domestic LNG inventories at record lows. Data from the Beijing oil & gas transportation center showed that the domestic natural gas pipeline network had “emergency” storage of 1.99 billion cubic meters at the end of January. According to jiemian.com, as of January 30, the volume available for sale in the current pipeline network was 420 million cubic meters per day whereas demand was 445 million cubic meters per day, in addition to the network’s own use of 5 million cubic meters per day. So the domestic supply gas is about 30 million cubic meters per day.

As a result, CNPC must ration the supply and sale of LNG to avoid a total collapse of the LNG pipeline system.

The China-Central Asia LNG pipeline, which starts at the border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan on the banks of the Amu Darya River, is one of the world’s longest LNG pipeline. The gas pipeline runs about 10,000 kilometers, with 188 kilometers in Turkmenistan, 530 kilometers in Uzbekistan, 1,300 kilometers in Kazakhstan and 8,000 kilometers in China.

Turkmenistan is the largest pipeline LNG exporter to China. But since January, the gas concern there has shut down supply three times.

If all these figures are true, the risk is obvious: Central Asia has emerged as a broken link in the international energy security network that China has made such effort to forge.

With China participating in globalization as the “world’s factory,” ensuring energy security is vital for China. China has put huge resources (in banking, diplomacy, investment, markets and public finance) and effort into building a five-channel international energy supply network to satisfy the world’s largest oil and gas demand.

As China adjusts its energy consumption structure, switching to green energy, the demand for LNG will constantly grow and create a heavy dependency on foreign resources. The high dependency on LNG from Turkmenistan has become a potential security risk.

If this situation continues, it will not only lead to unexpected problems for State-owned petroleum corporations, it will also leave the Chinese government unprepared. If the key passage of LNG is not stable, the security of China’s international energy supply network must be re-evaluated.

Russia and the Power of Siberia pipeline are conspicuously never mentioned in this article.  Nonetheless Chinese anger and concern about the breaches of contract by their traditional Central Asian gas suppliers is clear enough, as is the urgently expressed need for China to diversify away from them to a more reliable supplier, which can only be Russia.

The article in fact highlights the key role of natural gas in China’s future energy mix.

A visit to Shanghai in August impressed on me the extent to which the disastrous state of air pollution has become a major political and social issue in China, with China having a pressing need to move towards a ‘greener’ energy mix and to move away from its present over-reliance on coal.

As the article in Global Times shows, natural gas plays a critical role in all this, even as China forges ahead with alternative energy technologies, and a stable and reliable supply of gas to the Chinese energy market is regarded by China as essential for its energy security.

It turns out that the Chinese are finding that the Central Asian states upon which they have up to now relied for their gas are unable to maintain their gas pipeline infrastructure – much of which was built by the USSR – and are not above abusing their monopoly positions in China’s gas market to extort from China a higher price for their gas, even if this involves breaking their contracts with China.

This contrasts with Gazprom, which has a well-earned reputation for being an exceptionally reliable supplier, invariably honouring its gas supply contracts, and having all the technical and logistical resources needed to maintain its gas pipeline and gas transportation infrastructure and network in good working order.

The logic of substituting Gazprom and Russia for the Central Asian states as China’s main source of natural gas is obvious, and the Global Times article both highlights it and hints at it.

The Global Times article highlights a key point about Russian-Chinese economy cooperation.

Though trade between the countries does not approach the volumes of trade between China and the US or the EU, it is rising rapidly, with the two countries having resources which compliment each other.

Moreover Russia looks to be becoming an increasingly important source for China’s energy and raw material imports, as China discovers the difficulty of importing them reliably from elsewhere, and must also worry about US threats to blockade China’s main sea route, the South China Sea.

Russia has already replaced Saudi Arabia as China’s main source of oil.  It looks increasingly positioned to replace the Central Asian states as China’s main source of natural gas as well.

The economic linkages between the two countries are growing bigger and stronger, with their importance to each country starting to transcend their physical volume, as each comes to rely more on the other for the critical imports each needs.

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De-Dollarization Tops Agenda at Russia’s Eastern Economic Forum

The Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) was held in Vladivostok on Sept.11-13. Founded in 2015, the event has become a platform for planning and launching projects to strengthen business ties in the Asia-Pacific region.

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Via Strategic Culture

This year, the EEF brought together delegations from over 60 countries to discuss the topic “The Far East: Expanding the Range of Possibilities”. A total of 100 business events involving over 6,000 participants were held during the three days.

1,357 media personnel worked to cover the forum. Last year, the number of participants was 5,000 with 1,000 media persons involved in reporting and broadcasting. The EEF-18 gathered 340 foreign and 383 Russian CEOs. Nearly 80 start-ups from across South-East Asia joined the meeting.

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This year, a total of 175 agreements worth of 2.9 trillion rubles (some $4.3 billion) were signed. For comparison, the sum was 2.5 trillion rubles (roughly $3.7 billion) in 2017.

They included the development of the Baimsky ore deposits in Chukotka, the construction of a terminal for Novatek LNG at Bechevinskaya Bay in Kamchatka and the investment of Asian countries in Russia’s agricultural projects in the Far East.

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Mail.Ru Group, Megafon and Chinese Alibaba inked an agreement on establishing AliExpress trade joint venture. Rosneft and Chinese CNPC signed an oil exploration agreement.

The Chinese delegation was the largest (1,096 people), followed by the Japanese (570 members). The list of guests included the president of Mongolia and prime ministers of Japan and South Korea.

It was also the first time Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the event to meet his Russian counterpart. The issue of de-dollarization topped the agenda. Russia and China reaffirmed their interest in expanding the use of national currencies in bilateral deals.

During the forum, Kirill Dmitriev, the head of RDIF, said the fund intends to use only national currencies in its transactions with China starting from 2019. It will cooperate with the China Development Bank.

This “yuanification” is making visible progress with Shanghai crude futures increasing their share of oil markets up to 14 percent or even more. China has signed agreements with Canada and Qatar on national currencies exchange.

READ MORE: Eastern Economic Forum opens new chapter in US-Russia dialogue

De-dollarization is a trend that is picking up momentum across the world. A growing number of countries are interested in replacing the dollar. Russia is leading the race to protect itself from fluctuations, storms and US-waged trade wars and sanctions.

Moscow backs non-dollar trade with Ankara amid the ongoing lira crisis. Turkey is switching from the dollar to settlements in national currencies, including its trade with China and other countries. Ditching the US dollar is the issue topping the BRICS agenda. In April, Iran transferred all international payments to the euro.

The voices calling for de-dollarization are getting louder among America’s closest European allies. In August, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for the creation of a new payments system independent of the US.

According to him, Europe should not allow the United States to act “over our heads and at our expense.” The official wants to strengthen European autonomy by establishing independent payment channels, creating a European Monetary Fund and building up an independent SWIFT system.

Presenting his annual program, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called on Sept. 12 for the European Union to promote the euro as a global currency to challenge the dollar.

According to him, “We must do more to allow our single currency to play its full role on the international scene.” Mr. Juncker believes “it is absurd that Europe pays for 80 percent of its energy import bill – worth 300 billion euros a year – in US dollars when only roughly 2 percent of our energy imports come from the United States.” He wants the raft of proposals made in his state of the union address to start being implemented before the European Parliament elections in May.

70% of all world trade transactions account for the dollar, while 20% are  settled in the euro, and the rest falls on the yuan and other Asian currencies. The dollar value is high to make the prices of consumer goods in the US artificially low. The demand for dollars allows refinancing the huge debt at low interest rates. The US policy of trade wars and sanctions has triggered the global process of de-dollarization.

Using punitive measures as a foreign policy tool is like shooting oneself in the foot. It prompts a backlash to undermine the dollar’s status as the world reserve currency – the basis of the US economic might. The aggressive policy undermines the US world standing to make it weaker, not stronger.

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Putin and Erdogan Plan Syria-Idlib DMZ

What the Putin-Erdogan DMZ decision means is that the 50,000 Turkish troops occupying Idlib will take control over that land, and have responsibility over the largest concentration of jihadists anywhere on the planet.

Eric Zuesse

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As I recommended in a post on September 10th, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan jointly announced on September 17th, “We’ve agreed to create a demilitarized zone between the government troops and militants before October 15. The zone will be 15-20km wide,” which compares to the Korean DMZ’s 4-km width. I had had in mind the Korean experience, but obviously Putin and Erdogan are much better-informed about the situation than I am, and they have chosen a DMZ that’s four to five times wider. In any case, the consequences of such a decision will be momentous, unless U.S. President Donald Trump is so determined for there to be World War III as to stop at nothing in order to force it to happen no matter what Russia does or doesn’t do.

What the Putin-Erdogan DMZ decision means is that the 50,000 Turkish troops who now are occupying Idlib province of Syria will take control over that land, and will thus have the responsibility over the largest concentration of jihadists anywhere on the planet: Idlib. It contains the surviving Syrian Al Qaeda and ISIS fighters, including all of the ones throughout Syria who surrendered to the Syrian Army rather than be shot dead on the spot by Government forces.

For its part, the U.S. Government, backed by its allies and supported in this by high officials of the United Nations, had repeatedly threatened that if there occurs any chemical-weapons attack, or even any claimed chemical-weapons attack, inside Idlib, the U.S. and its allies will instantaneously blame the Syrian Government and bomb Syria, and will shoot down the planes of Syria and of Russia that oppose this bombing-campaign to conquer or ‘liberate’ Syria from its Government. The U.S. has announced its determination to protect what one high U.S. official — who is endorsing what Trump is doing there — “the largest Al Qaeda safe haven since 9/11.” He admits it, but he wants to protect them from being bombed by Syria and by Russia.

During recent weeks, the U.S. military has increasingly said that even if the jihadists they’ve been assisting to assemble the materials for a chemical-weapons attack fail to carry it out or to stage one, any attempt by Syrian and Russian forces to destroy the jihadists (which the U.S. side calls ‘rebels’) in Idlib will be met with overwhelming U.S.-and-allied firepower. That would spark WW III, because whichever side — Russia or U.S. — loses in the Syrian battlefield will nuclear-blitz-attack the other side so as to have the lesser damage from the nuclear war and thus (in military terms) ‘win’ WW III, because the blitz-attack will destroy many of the opposite side’s retaliatory weapons. In a nuclear war, the first side to attack will have a considerable advantage — reducing the number of weapons the other side can launch.

If, on the other hand, the DMZ-plan works, then Turkey’s forces will be responsible for vetting any of Idlib’s residents who try to leave, in order to prohibit jihadists and their supporters from leaving. Once that task (filtering out the non-dangerous inhabitants and retaining in Idlib only the jihadists and their supporters) is done, the entire world might be consulted on whether to exterminate the remaining residents or to set them free to return to the countries from which they came or to other countries. Presumably, no country would want those ‘refugees’. That would answer the question.

America’s Arab allies, the oil monarchies such as the Sauds who own Saudi Arabia and the Thanis who own Qatar, and which have funded Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, would then be put on a spot, because if they say “Exterminate them!” then their clergy who have provided the moral imprimatur upon those families’ ownership of those nations, will either be in rebellion or else will themselves become overthrown either by their own followers or else by their monarch — overthrown from below or from above.

Alternatively, after Turkey’s forces in Idlib will have allowed release from Idlib of all who will be allowed out, Syria’s and Russia’s bombers will simply go in and slaughter the then-surrounded jihadists and take upon themselves the responsibility for that, regardless of what the leaders of the U.S. and its allied governments might say.

On the night of September 17th in Syria, there were missile-attacks “from the sea” against several Syrian cities; and those attacks could have come from either Israel’s or America’s ships, or from other U.S.-allied ships. Russian Television bannered, “Russian plane disappears from radars during Israeli attack on Syria’s Latakia – MoD” and reported:

A Russian military Il-20 aircraft with 14 service members on board went off the radars during an attack by four Israeli jets on Syria’s Latakia province, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
Air traffic controllers at the Khmeimim Air Base “lost contact” with the aircraft on Wednesday evening, during the attack of Israeli F-16 fighters on Latakia, said the MOD.Russian radars also registered the launch of missiles from a French frigate in the Mediterranean on the evening of September 17. …
The attack on Latakia came just hours after Russia and Turkey negotiated a partial demilitarization of the Idlib province

If the missiles were authorized by President Trump, then WW III has already begun in its pre-nuclear stage. However, if the attacks were launched by Israel’s Netanyahu, and/or by France’s Macron, without U.S. authorization, then the U.S. President might respond to them by siding against that aggressor(s) (and also against what he used to call “Radical Islamic Terrorists”), so as to prevent a nuclear war.

Late on September 17th, Al Masdar News bannered “NATO warships move towards Syrian coast” and reported “The NATO flotilla cruising off the Syrian coast reportedly consists of a Dutch frigate, the De Ruyter, a Canadian frigate, the Ville de Quebec, and a Greek cruiser, the Elli.” Al Qaeda and ISIS have influential protectors.

Ultimately, the decision will be U.S. President Trump’s as to whether he is willing to subject the planet to WW III and to its following nuclear winter and consequent die-off of agriculture and of everyone, in order to ‘win’ a nuclear war, such as America’s aristocracy has especially championed since the year 2006. The nuclear-victory concept is called “Nuclear Primacy” — the use of nuclear weapons so as to win a nuclear war against Russia, instead of to prevent a nuclear war. That concept’s predecessor, the “Mutually Assured Destruction” or “M.A.D.” meta-strategy, predominated even in the U.S. until 2006. Trump will have to decide whether the purpose of America’s nuclear-weapons stockpiles is to prevent WW III, or is to win WW III.

In Russia, the purpose has always been to have nuclear weapons in order to prevent WW III. But America’s President will be the person who will make the ultimate decision on this. And Idlib might be the spark. Netanyahu or Macron might be wanting to drag the U.S. into war even against Russia, but the final decision will be Trump’s.

The ultimate question is: How far will the U.S. go in order to continue the U.S. dollar as being the overwhelmingly dominant global currency?

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Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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Russian MoD: Il-20 downed by Syrian missile after attacking Israel’s F-16s used it as cover

Israeli pilots used the Russian plane as cover and set it up to be targeted by the Syrian air defense forces.

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Russia has stated that it “reserves right to response” after claiming that Israel’s actions led to downing of Il-20 by Syrian S-200 missiles.

The Russian military accused their Israeli counterparts for causing the downing of a Russian Il-20 plane by the Syrian air defense forces, which were responding to an Israeli air raid on Latakia.

Via RT


The Russian military say the Israeli raid on Syria triggered a chain of events, which led to the shooting down of a Russian Il-20 plane by a Syrian S-200 surface-to-air missile. Moscow reserves the right to respond accordingly.

On Monday evening four Israeli F-16 fighter jets attacked targets in Syria’s Latakia after approaching from the Mediterranean, a statement by the Russian defense ministry said on Tuesday. The Israeli warplanes came at a small altitude and “created a dangerous situation for other aircraft and vessels in the region”, it said.

The military said the French Navy’s frigate “Auvergne” as well as a Russian Il-20 plane were in the area of the Israeli operation.

“The Israeli pilots used the Russian plane as cover and set it up to be targeted by the Syrian air defense forces. As a consequence, the Il-20, which has radar cross-section much larger than the F-16, was shot down by an S-200 system missile,” the statement said.

The Russian ministry stressed that the Israelis must have known that the Russian plane was present in the area, which didn’t stop them from “the provocation”. Israel also failed to warn Russia about the planned operation in advance. The warning came a minute before the attack started, which “did not leave time to move the Russian plane to a safe area,” the statement said.

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