Harper to visit China, seeking higher oil sales

Wed Jan 11, 2012 4:21pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper plans to visit China next month as his government looks to open new markets for oil sands crude in the wake of Washington's decision to delay approval of a major pipeline from Alberta to Texas.

Harper is scheduled to fly to Beijing in the second week of February and aims to deepen economic ties with the Asian powerhouse, the prime minister's office said in a statement on Wednesday after he met with China's ambassador.

After President Barack Obama's administration said last November it would delay approval of TransCanada Corp's proposed Keystone XL pipeline to Texas, Harper said he would focus on Asian markets.

"I'm very serious about selling our oil off this continent, selling our energy products to Asia," he told CTV television in an interview last month.

The easiest way to boost oil exports to China would be through Enbridge Inc's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which would carry tar sands-derived oil from Alberta to the Pacific Coast. There it would be loaded on to tankers and shipped to Pacific Rim markets.

Regulators began hearings on Tuesday into the C$5.5 billion($5.4 billion) project, which would move 525,000 barrels of oil sands crude a day and is strongly opposed by environmentalists and some influential aboriginal groups.

While in China, Harper will meet with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.

After winning power in 2006, Harper's Conservatives initially took a cool line with China and cited what they described as Beijing's poor human rights record.   Continued...