BEIJING - China aims to deepen energy ties with Central Asian states seeking new markets for their oil, gas and uranium, an official said on Thursday, ahead of a visit to Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan by Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Hu will visit the two central Asian states from Saturday to Monday, and in Turkmenistan will attend the formal opening of a gas pipeline connecting China to Central Asia, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Guangya told a news conference in Beijing.

Another official at the briefing said China was open to other energy projects in central Asia, where the former Soviet states have been looking beyond Russia -- their traditional customer for oil and gas -- for fresh markets.

In the energy sector, China is pursuing diversification of energy imports, while the Central Asian countries are pursuing diversification of exports, said Zhang Xiyun, director-general of the Chinese foreign ministry's department for European-Central Asian affairs.

This kind of cooperation will naturally continue and has room to develop further, said Zhang, who mentioned Central Asian reserves of oil, natural gas and uranium.

The 1,833-kilometre (1,139-mile) Turkmenistan-China pipeline also stretches through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan into western China's restive Xinjiang region. It starts close to a gas field developed by China's CNPC.

The new pipeline, with capacity of 40 billion cubic metres a year, will ease Turkmenistan's dependence on Russia, which has traditionally been the main buyer of its gas.

China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) will sell natural gas from central Asia at up to 3,750 yuan a tonne, or about 3 yuan a cubic metre, to a city distributor in southern China in 2011, a rate far above existing domestic prices.

China has also extended its presence in the Turkmen energy sector by giving Turkmenistan a $3 billion loan to develop the South Iolotan field, one of the world's five largest natural gas deposits.

China also receives Kazakh oil by pipeline, and Kazakhstan has also been looking for buyers of its uranium.

In April, China Guandong Nuclear Power Co (CGNPC) and Kazakh state nuclear firm Kazatomprom announced plans to lift uranium output from their joint venture.

The Chinese officials would not give any details about any other deals or agreements that may be unveiled during Hu's visit. (Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Ken Wills)