Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is in Beijing for meetings with officials and business leaders Monday, at a time when Ottawa is trying to create trade opportunities in the country that could one day be one of Canada's biggest oil customers.

The message that Flaherty is delivering on behalf of the government is that Ottawa wants to open doors for Canadian businesses in the Chinese marketplace.

"Canada places a very high priority on working closely with China to strengthen the trading relationship of our two countries, and to address both ongoing and emerging challenges that face the global economy," Flaherty told an audience of officials and business leaders in Beijing.

Flaherty's overseas visit also comes just days after the U.S. State Department announced it would delay approving a major pipeline project that would bring Alberta crude all the way down to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

With the $7-billion pipeline project now in limbo, oil companies have begun looking at alternative arrangements for moving oil south of the border.

And Prime Minister Stephen Harper has directly told U.S. President Barack Obama that Canada will also be looking at what opportunities exist in Asia for selling energy products.

That's where China comes in.

With more than 1 billion people living within its borders and a growing demand for petroleum products in its rapidly growing economy, China is expected to be among the biggest oil markets in the world in the years ahead.

"Everyone knows that China is going to be a big market going forward," CTV's Beijing Bureau Chief Ben O'Hara-Byrne reported Monday from Beijing.

"They predict by 2020, it will be a bigger oil market than Europe; by 2030 even bigger than the U.S."

But there are hurdles to getting that oil overseas and to being successful in China.

The Chinese market will be very competitive in the years ahead, with oil producers from Russia, Central Asia and Australia all vying for a piece of the same pie.

And Canada would have to build the necessary infrastructure to get oil and other energy products from Alberta to the British Columbia coast where it can be shipped to China.

"Canada would like to send natural gas here, a lot of it. And they would one day like to send oil here," O'Hara-Byrne said.

"But there's a lot of controversy about how that oil gets here. How would the pipelines work? Ultimately, what's the threat of oil spills and such? So there's still a lot of road to cross, but at this point and time, we're seeing Canada take its first steps in looking elsewhere than the U.S. to send these products."

Craig Machel, an adviser with Macquarie Private Wealth, said it is in Canada's best interest to expand into markets where growth is strongest.

"If you look at the world around us, we're recognizing that there's greater growth taking place in developing markets, rather than developed," Machel told CTV News Channel on Monday morning.

While in Beijing, Flaherty also commented on the European debt crisis, saying that the continent must use its own resources to attack the problem before other countries contribute.

"Generally, I think the view is that we first need to see that very substantial commitment and action by the Europeans -- and I'm talking about the members of the euro zone -- before any more would be asked of non-European G20 countries."

With files from The Associated Press