Harper says he’s committed to diversifing oil sales toward China

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he is committed to diversifying energy exports to countries such as China, while pledging to press Beijing on human rights as he forges ahead with deeper economic ties.

Harper told a business dinner in Guangzhou he would push for the construction of new infrastructure needed to ship the country’s oil to China, as part of efforts to take the economic partnership to “the next level.”

Canada, holder of the world’s third largest oil reserves, is seeking to reduce its reliance on the U.S. after President Barack Obama rejected TransCanada Corp.’s (TRP) $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline to ship Canadian oil to the Gulf Coast. Canada sends 99 percent of its oil exports to the U.S.

“We want to sell our energy to people who want to buy our energy,” Harper said at the dinner. “It’s that simple.”

Harper said his country’s quest for new markets won’t curtail its willingness to raise human rights issues with China.

“In relations between China and Canada, you should expect us to continue to raise issues of fundamental freedoms and human rights and to be a vocal advocate for these just as we will be an effective partner in our growing and mutually beneficial economic relationship,” Harper said.

‘Responsible’ Citizen

Harper also urged China to be a “responsible” global citizen on security issues. While Harper didn’t mention Syria, the Canadian government has said it’s “disappointed” with China’s decision this week to block United Nations action on Syria amid President Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown on the opposition movement.

“Canadians also demand that their government be a responsible global citizen in dealing with the peace and security challenges that confront the world and, wherever we can urge other governments, including global actors like China, to do the same,” Harper said.

Harper, who is on a four-day visit to China, has concluded a foreign investment-protection agreement and opened China to Canadian uranium exports as part of measures to bolster business and political relations between the two countries. The Canadian leader met Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, President Hu Jintao, and Vice Premier Li Keqiang during the Beijing leg of the trip.

Lagged Behind

Canada has lagged behind other countries in developing trade links with Asia, and hasn’t signed a free trade agreement with any country in the region. Canadian exports to China totaled 1.8 percent of shipments abroad in 2006. That figure has since risen to 3.7 percent through the first 11 months of 2011, according to Industry Canada.

The government last month began hearings on a proposed pipeline by Enbridge Inc. (ENB) to move crude from Alberta’s oil sands to British Columbia’s coast, where it could be shipped to Asian markets. The pipeline has become a flashpoint with environmentalists, and Harper has said his government will review regulatory-approval rules for new energy projects so they can be concluded more quickly. That will include looking more closely into complaints that “foreign” environmental groups are seeking to overload the regulatory process, according to Harper.

“Our government is committed to ensuring that Canada has the infrastructure necessary to move our energy resources to those diversified markets,” Harper said. “Will we uphold our responsibility to put the interests of Canadians ahead of foreign money and influence that seek to obstruct development in Canada.”