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Lifeline to China

Thailand presses ahead with pipeline plans...

Thailand is proceeding with plans to build a $600 million oil pipeline in the south of the country to try to meet China's surging demand for crude and become Asia's energy trading hub.

Prommin Lertsuridej, energy minister, said the Thai government would approve the project in the next six months after receiving the backing of several Asian and Middle Eastern countries at a meeting last week.

The pipeline, on the Kra Isthmus in southern Thailand, is a sign of Bangkok's determination to become a regional centre for energy distribution and trading ahead of Singapore.

"Our ambition is to exploit our geographical advantage and proximity to the market," said Mr Lertsuridej, in Hong Kong to brief investors about the country's energy sector ahead of the privatisation of the state electricity generating company this year.

He added that China was also considering holding some of its oil reserves in Thailand and buying a stake in one of its refineries to secure a steady supply of crude.