Kazakhstan is due to open the valves Thursday on a major pipeline carrying oil to China.
Kazakhstan is due to open a major pipeline carrying oil to China, establishing the energy-rich nation's first oil export route that bypasses Russia.
For the vast Central Asian nation, which is expected to become one of the world's largest oil exporters, the 625-mile pipeline opens a huge market. It is designed to carry 140 million barrels of oil annually to China.
For China, the new route is a key achievement in aggressive efforts to secure foreign energy supplies for its booming economy.
The pipeline is a 50-50 joint venture between state companies China National Petroleum Corp. and KazMunaiGaz.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev is expected to push a button at KazMunaiGaz headquarters in the capital, Astana, to open the flow from the pipeline that starts in the central town of Atasu, 174 miles to the south.
Kamal Burkhanov, director of the China and Russia Institute in Almaty, said it was "hard to overestimate" the importance of the new pipeline.
"By launching this pipeline, Kazakhstan fulfills its geopolitical strategy of a multi-vector policy," he said. "Kazakhstan will now be able to sell its oil to markets of its own choice, independent of political pressure."
Kazakhstan, which possesses the largest oil deposits in the energy-rich Caspian Sea, currently produces about 1.3 million barrels a day, according to the Oil Ministry. By 2015, its oil output is expected to reach 3 million barrels a day.
Until now, the main route for Kazakh oil exports has been the Caspian Pipeline, which was launched in 2001 to join the giant Tengiz oil field in western Kazakhstan with Russia's Black Sea port of Novorossiisk.
The launch of the Chinese pipeline comes months after the opening of another alternative export route for Kazakh oil ¡ª the 1,100-mile pipeline that runs from the Azerbaijani port capital of Baku, via Georgia to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.
For Beijing, the launch of the new pipeline that runs to the Altaw Pass in northwestern China is part of a strategy aimed to satisfy its growing appetite for energy by tapping the reserves of neighboring Central Asian nations.
Earlier this year, China National Petroleum Corp. bought Kazakhstan's third-biggest oil producer, Canada-based PetroKazakhstan, whose energy assets are all in Kazakhstan and include one of the country's three oil refineries.
China also signed gas exploration contracts in Uzbekistan, and it is expected to sign a major natural gas supply deal with Turkmenistan in January.
The Kazakh-Chinese pipeline will initially carry oil from the Kumkol field in central Kazakhstan, which used to be operated by PetroKazakhstan. By 2011, when it reaches full capacity, the pipeline is expected to be used to ship oil from Russia's western Siberia.