Join our Mailing List

"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Canada: Cannon Lays Groundwork for Harper's China visit

May 20, 2009

The Globe and Mail
May 17, 2009

OTTAWA -- Canada and China are grappling with
ways to build trust in their sometimes tense
relations as the Conservative government lays the
ground for a milestone visit by Prime Minister
Stephen Harper, possibly this fall.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon spent
five days in China last week preparing for a
journey by Mr. Harper, meeting not only Foreign
Minister Yang Jiechi, but also holding an
unusual, high-level 40-minute session with
Vice-President Xi Jinping. Mr. Cannon walked away
with an invitation for Canada's Prime Minister, a
formality that only comes after considerable leg-work by diplomats.

A top-level visit by Mr. Harper is considered key
to full-bore relations with China.

It would be especially symbolic for Mr. Harper,
whose government's criticisms of China on rights
cases and such gestures as his 2007 meeting with
the Dalai Lama have fuelled what China's
ambassador to Canada recently called a “downturn” in relations.

However, analysts and some individuals who have
contacts with officials from both countries say
the Chinese want more warming signals before Mr.
Harper visits, and relations are reset.

"Quite clearly, I came out of there with the
distinct feeling that they want to be able to
increase their commercial relations with Canada
and of course diplomatic relations with Canada,”
Mr. Cannon said in an interview yesterday.

"What I saw was that they're very interested in
welcoming the prime minister at a convenient date
that could be established with them."

He also told CTV's Question Period that he and
China's Foreign Minister, Mr. Yang, identified
several issues where the two countries could make progress.

"We're going forward with this engagement, and
we're looking at ways to make sure that it works.
My objective was to go there and pave the way for
an eventual meeting between the prime minister
and the Chinese leadership," he said.

No formal date has been set for a visit, but
there has been speculation Mr. Harper might go to
Beijing in mid-November, when he travels to
Singapore for a summit of Pacific Rim leaders.

Mr. Harper's aides said a trip must fit into the
demands of a minority Parliament, including the
possible threat of a fall election.

In the meantime, China will be looking for
comforting signals, beyond the recent visits of
Mr. Cannon and Trade Minister Stockwell Day,
University of British Columbia Asia expert Paul Evans said.

That would include cultural visits, signs that
disagreements over human rights can be "managed,"
and possible steps on two-way investment -- China
would like assurances that acquisitions of
Canadian oil or mining interests by its
state-owned firms will be treated like any other company's.

"This is from the Chinese perspective -- what
they're expecting in step-by-step relations," Mr.
Evans said. "It's a matter of a series of
confidence-building measures in the lead-in to a visit."

Mr. Cannon said last week he wants a revamped
version of the Canada-China Human Rights
Dialogue, a series of closed-door sessions
between officials that was criticized by the
Conservatives and others as ineffective.

But China watchers say Beijing will also be
looking closely at other symbols, like the Dalai
Lama's expected visit to Canada in September --
Mr. Harper's 2007 meeting with the Dalai Lama in
his Parliament Hill office, where a Tibetan flag
was on view, incensed Chinese officials.

"They, at a minimum, are going to want a
situation in which they are not going to be
criticized," said one source who speaks regularly to Chinese officials.

Mr. Harper has faced business-community
complaints that he has cooled ties, pointing to
his failure to visit. He said in last fall's
election campaign he will eventually go there,
while the Conservatives note they have sent
ministers 15 times, and insisted trade is unaffected.

But Canada's ambassador to China Lan Lijun told
the Senate foreign-affairs committee three weeks ago that ties have slid.

"Over the past few years, we have seen a downturn
of the relationship. No active exchange of
high-level visits. And the approach taken on the
issues are, you know, somewhat, not really
conducive to developing a sound set of relationships," he said.

"... I think we will be able to see a better
future for our relationship. But the relationship
needs to be cared for, and nurtured, from both sides."

The Conservatives have focused on trade, but must
also come to terms with China as a rising global
force. Some say Mr. Harper's advisers were jolted
at the April Group of 20 summit in London by
comments that action, on issues such as the
global financial system and climate change, will
be addressed in the U.S.-China "G2" talks.

Mr. Evans said Canada needs to not only strike
trade deals with China, but open a panoply of
talks to clear away regulatory barriers to deeper
economic ties. A prime ministerial visit is key
to warming politics, and should be a step for broader economic ties, he said.

"It's a necessary part of conducting full-scope relations with China," he said.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank