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Harper's Olympic absence noticed in Beijing

August 13, 2008

CTV.ca News (Canada)
Aug. 11 2008 10:34 PM ET

A visit from Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson to Beijing is
doing little to quell calls for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to join
other world leaders attending the 2008 Olympic Summer Games.

About 80 other world leaders have attended the Games, and Harper's
absence has not gone unnoticed in China, a former Canadian ambassador
to China told CTV News.

"I think they care about the Canadian relationship," Howard Balloch
said of the Chinese government. "Canada has had a very important
relationship with China over a very long period of time."

The local media in China have even referred to a "Canadian boycott"
of the Games, despite the presence of Emerson and Helena Guergis,
secretary of state for sport.

Even Emerson seemed to admit that Harper's presence would be helpful.

"It would be very, very nice to see the prime minster come to China,
but I don't want to get the cart ahead of the horse. One thing at a
time," Emerson told reporters over the weekend. "Could he possibly be
here for closing ceremonies? I can't comment on that. I don't know."

Emerson's comments seem to be leaving open the door slightly ajar for
a Harper visit, perhaps for the closing ceremony. With Canada hosting
the next Olympic Games, some believe a prime ministerial visit should
be in the works.

"We need to have closer ties to countries like China and certainly by
being at the closing ceremony that might help," David McKay, Canadian
wrestling coach, told CTV News in Beijing.

But on CTV's Question Period Sunday another Tory MP, Secretary of
State for Multiculturalism Jason Kenney, downplayed the importance of
a Harper visit.

"Frankly, Canadian prime ministers don't go to the Olympics," Kenney
said. "People keep saying that it's not a political event, so the
prime minister's view is, 'Why would a political leader go to a
non-political event?'"

Harper has not visited China since he became Prime Minister in 2006,
which has worried business leaders who feel that may be hurting trade
relations.

China is Canada's second biggest trade partner with almost $50
billion in trade between the two countries in 2007, according to DFAIT.

Harper is viewed as being much more bullish on criticizing China's
human rights record than his Liberal predecessors, who often led
trade missions to the country.

"The prime minister has been clear, we will never sacrifice human
rights for the almighty dollar," Kenney said.

The Conservatives point out that Harper met with Chinese President Hu
Jintao at the G8 summit meetings in Japan last month and thus,
doesn't need to talk to him in Beijing.

But critics of Harper's position point out that U.S. President George
Bush has managed to have it both ways. He blunted criticized China's
human rights record on the eve of his visit to China, and then stood
smiling for photo ops with the Chinese president and U.S. athletes
when he arrived in Beijing.

With a report from CTV's Lisa LaFlamme
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