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CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Delays in building pipelines to carry oil from the oil sands of Alberta to Canada's West Coast for shipment to Asia should not squelch a boom in investments in the country's energy resources by Chinese companies, China's ambassador to Canada said on Friday.
Spending by Chinese state-owned enterprises in Canadian oil sands and shale gas companies and projects has hit roughly C$20 billion ($20.1 billion), with the first priorities to learn about the business and show a profit, Zhang Junsai told reporters after speaking to a conference on Chinese investment in Canada.
China imports oil and gas from Australia, Qatar, Russia and elsewhere, so supplies from Canada can wait, Zhang said.
"There's investment opportunity because Canada's open for international investment. If there's opportunity, Chinese companies will come to take some shares, as I say, to learn from Canada," he told reporters.
"We can buy our resources, our energy, from other channels. There are a lot of channels. But we'll work on Canada's exports to China of oil and gas. That will happen in the next few years."
The government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made diversifying exports of Canadian oil to Asian markets a major initiative, but pipeline capacity is limited for transporting crude to port on the West Coast.
Enbridge Inc and Kinder Morgan Energy Partners are proposing multibillion-dollar pipeline projects to move the crude to the Pacific Ocean from Alberta, but both face opposition from environmental groups and aboriginal communities.
Enbridge's C$5.5 billion Northern Gateway project is currently the subject of public hearing process that is not expected to be completed before the end of 2013.
Still, Sinopec, PetroChina and other Chinese companies have been among the most enthusiastic investors in Canada's oil patch.
The current lack of pipeline capacity may not hinder investment, but the addition of such infrastructure will likely multiply it, said Gordon Houlden, director of the University of Alberta's China Institute, which hosted the conference.
"Those big firms, they want to make a profit. They don't have to have a direct means of carrying oil to China," said Houlden, a former Canadian diplomat in China.
"But I think when that means exists you'll see even greater interest, partly because China's got strategic concerns about the Middle East, which aren't going to go away." ($1=$0.99 Canadian)
Editing by David Gregorio