TORONTO – Canada’s prime minister heads to China next week to discuss Canada’s vast oil reserves, in a visit that’s being viewed as an “open warning” to the United States, which rejected a pipeline from Canada to Texas.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be in Beijing and two other cities for bilateral meetings with top Chinese officials, including President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao from Wednesday to Saturday.

Andrew MacDougall, Harper’s spokesman, said Friday it’s “absolutely in Canada’s interests” to move the country’s resources to China. Five cabinet ministers, including the ministers of natural resources, trade and foreign affairs, will make the trip with Harper.

Harper is determined to build a pipeline to Canada’s Pacific Coast after President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline that would have taken oil from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast.

Ninety-seven percent of Canadian oil exports now go to the United States and Harper is eager to diversify.

Canada has the world’s third-largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela — more than 170 billion barrels. Daily production of 1.5 million barrels from the oil sands is expected to increase to 3.7 million by 2025, which the oil industry sees as a pressing reason to build the pipelines.

Canada is increasingly looking to China, thinking America doesn’t want a big-stake share in what environmentalists call “dirty oil,” which they say increases greenhouse gas emissions.

Harper told Obama he was “profoundly disappointed” that he rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, which has become a hot topic in the U.S. presidential election. Republican candidates Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have both promised to approve the pipeline.

After Obama first delayed a decision on the pipeline in November, Harper told the Chinese president at the Pacific Rim summit in Hawaii that Canada would like to sell more oil to China, and the Canadian prime minister filled in Obama on what he said.

Wenran Jiang, an energy expert and professor at the University of Alberta, said Canada is using China as leverage.

He said Harper’s visit is an explicit warning to the United States.

“It’s not a subtle warning. It’s an open warning,” Jiang said. “Harper has said Keystone was a wake-up call.”

Relations between Canada and China have improved significantly since Harper’s first visit in 2009, when Premier Wen publicly chided Harper for taking so long to visit China. Harper has since changed Canada’s hardline stance on human rights.


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