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China steps up Afghan role as Western pullout nears

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By Sanjeev Miglani
KABUL – Sun Jun 3, 2012 3:38am EDT

(Reuters) – China and Afghanistan will sign an agreement in the coming days that strategically deepens their ties, Afghan officials say, the strongest signal yet that Beijing wants a role beyond economic partnership as Western forces prepare to leave the country.

China has kept a low political profile through much of the decade-long international effort to stabilize Afghanistan, choosing instead to pursue an economic agenda, including locking in future supply from Afghanistan’s untapped mineral resources.

As the U.S.-led coalition winds up military engagement and hands over security to local forces, Beijing, along with regional powers, is gradually stepping up involvement in an area that remains at risk from being overrun by Islamist insurgents.

Chinese President Hu Jintao and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai will hold talks on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Beijing this week, where they will seal a wide-ranging pact governing their ties, including security cooperation.

Afghanistan has signed a series of strategic partnership agreements including with the United States, India and Britain among others in recent months, described by one Afghan official as taking out “insurance cover” for the period after the end of 2014 when foreign troops leave.

“The president of Afghanistan will be meeting the president of China in Beijing and what will happen is the elevation of our existing, solid relationship to a new level, to a strategic level,” Janan Musazai, a spokesman for the Afghan foreign ministry, told Reuters.

“It would certainly cover a broad spectrum which includes cooperation in the security sector, a very significant involvement in the economic sector, and the cultural field.”

He declined to give details about security cooperation, but Andrew Small, an expert on China at the European Marshall Fund who has tracked its ties with South Asia, said the training of security forces was one possibility.

China has signaled it will not contribute to a multilateral fund to sustain the Afghan national security forces – estimated to cost $4.1 billion per year after 2014 – but it could directly train Afghan soldiers, Small said.

“They’re concerned that there is going to be a security vacuum and they’re concerned about how the neighbors will behave,” he said.

Beijing has been running a small program with Afghan law enforcement officials, focused on counter-narcotics and involving visits to China’s restive Xinjiang province, whose western tip touches the Afghan border.

Training of Afghan forces is expected to be modest, and nowhere near the scale of the Western effort to bring them up to speed, or even India’s role in which small groups of officers are trained at military institutions in India.

China wants to play a more active role, but it will weigh the sensitivities of neighboring nations in a troubled corner of the world, said Zhang Li, a professor of South Asian studies at Sichuan University who has been studying the future of Sino-Afghan ties.

“I don’t think that the U.S. withdrawal also means a Chinese withdrawal, but especially in security affairs in Afghanistan, China will remain low-key and cautious,” he said. “China wants to play more of a role there, but each option in doing that will be assessed carefully before any steps are taken.”

JOSTLING FOR INFLUENCE

Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors Iran and Pakistan, but also nearby India and Russia, have all jostled for influence in the country at the crossroads of Central and South Asia, and many expect the competition to heat up after 2014.

India has poured aid into Afghanistan and like China has invested in its mineral sector, committing billions of dollars to develop iron ore deposits, as well as build a steel plant and other infrastructure.

It worries about a Taliban resurgence and the threat to its own security from Pakistan-based militants operating from the region.

Pakistan, which is accused of having close ties with the Taliban, has repeatedly complained about India’s expanding role in Afghanistan, seeing Indian moves as a plot to encircle it.

“India-Pakistan proxy fighting is one of the main worries,” said Small.

In February, China hosted a trilateral dialogue involving officials from Pakistan and Afghanistan to discuss efforts to seek reconciliation with the Taliban.

It was first time Beijing involved itself directly and openly in efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Musazai said Kabul supported any effort to bring peace in the country. “China has close ties with Afghanistan. It also has very close ties with Pakistan and if it can help advance the vision of peace and stability in Afghanistan we welcome it.”

(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley in BEIJING; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)

Hoegh LNG, DSME to Work on LNG FPSO for Israel’s Tamar Field

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Höegh LNG Holdings Ltd. has entered into an agreement with South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co. (“DSME”) to start a project specific front-end engineering design (FEED) of an LNG FPSO solution for the Tamar gas field offshore Israel.

This agreement follows the recent announcement of the agreement between DSME consortium, DSME and its Norwegian joint venture D&H Solutions AS and Tamar field owners, Noble Energy, Delek and Isramco to exploit part of the Tamar field by use of an LNG FPSO.

The agreement states that Höegh LNG with selected partners shall be the owner and operator of the LNG FPSO and that DSME shall be the EPCIC contractor, subject to further engineering work and a final investment decision.

President and CEO, Sveinung Støhle, says: “We are excited about initiating the engineering work for an LNG FPSO to monetize the gas reserves in the Tamar field in Israel based on Höegh LNG’s already developed design. This is a result of Höegh LNG’s continuous effort over the past five years to promote technical and economical sound floating solutions for LNG production. We are pleased to work with DSME and the Tamar field owners in jointly developing one of the first LNG FPSOs to come to market. DSME has been our partner for several years and we are confident that together with the other Tamar partners we will design, construct and operate an excellent solution for bringing the Tamar gas to the market.”

Tamar gas field is located some 80 km west of Haifa in waters 5,500 feet (1,700 m) deep. The gross resource estimate of Tamar has been increased to 9 Tcf from 8.4 Tcf as a result of appraisal work, Noble Energy said recently in a press release.

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USA: FMC Technologies Inks Global Alliance Agreement with Anadarko Petroleum

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FMC Technologies, Inc.  announced that it has signed a global alliance agreement with Anadarko Petroleum Corporation to provide subsea systems and life-of-field services for their worldwide subsea development projects.

In 1999, FMC supplied equipment for Anadarko’s first subsea project, North Garnet, in the Gulf of Mexico. Since then, the companies have collaborated on other projects including Independence Hub, the largest natural gas processing facility in the Gulf, and FMC has also supplied Anadarko with the industry’s first subsea wellhead qualified at a pressure rating of 20,000 psi.

“An alliance has been in place with Anadarko and its legacy companies since 1992 to support their Gulf of Mexico exploration and production projects,” said John Gremp, FMC Technologies’ Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer. “Today’s announcement will allow FMC to broaden its support of Anadarko’s expanding exploration and production activities worldwide, including recent discoveries offshore the East and West coasts of Africa. Anadarko has an extensive deepwater program, and we are pleased to strengthen our relationship through this global alliance.”

FMC Technologies, Inc. is a leading global provider of technology solutions for the energy industry. Named by FORTUNE® Magazine as the World’s Most Admired Oil and Gas Equipment, Service Company in 2010, the Company has approximately 13,500 employees and operates 27 production facilities in 16 countries. FMC Technologies designs, manufactures and services technologically sophisticated systems and products such as subsea production and processing systems, surface wellhead systems, high pressure fluid control equipment, measurement solutions, and marine loading systems for the oil and gas industry.

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