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China, Australia Sign Major Gas Deals

China has signed major gas export deals with Australia, and Cambodia plans to establish the country's first stock market. Claudia Blume at VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong has more on these and other business stories from the region.

China's biggest oil company, PetroChina, has signed a deal with Australia's Woodside Petroleum to buy liquefied natural gas from offshore fields in Western Australia.

PetroChina agreed to buy up to three million tons of gas every year, for a period of up to 20 years. Woodside says it will earn up to $37 billion from the contract, making it Australia's largest export deal ever.

Two days earlier, PetroChina also signed a 20-year contract with Royal Dutch Shell to buy liquefied natural gas from another gas field in Western Australia.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard says the deals underscore his country's strong economic ties with China.

"The growth in the economic ties between Australia and China over the last 10 years has been nothing short of stunning," he said.

Cambodia is planning to establish its first stock market - with help from South Korea. Korea Exchange, one of Asia' major stock exchanges, will provide training and technical expertise to Cambodia over the next two years. Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen says he hopes the new stock exchange will be operating by 2009.

A South Korean appeals court has meanwhile suspended the prison sentence of the chairman of Hyundai Motor Corporation, Chung Mong-koo. The court said Chung was too important to South Korea's economy to be imprisoned.

In February, Chung received a three-year sentence for embezzling more than $100 million to set up a political slush fund. After his conviction, he offered to donate about $1 billion to charities.

British bank HSBC said it will launch retail banking services in Japan next year, targeting mainly wealthy customers. The bank plans to open its first Japanese branch in Tokyo in January 2008. Last week, the British-based bank also announced it will buy half of Korea Exchange Bank, South Korea's sixth-largest bank, for $6.3 billion.

Nepal Airlines found an unusual way to fix the technical problems of one of its planes. The airline slaughtered two goats in front of a troublesome Boeing 757 as a sacrifice to the Hindu sky god. The offering seemed to work: after the ceremony, the plane successfully took off from Kathmandu airport.