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Harper eyes China visit after testy relations with regime

April 9, 2009

Alexander Panetta, THE CANADIAN PRESS
The Winnipeg Free Press
April 7, 2009

OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper plans to
visit China as part of a broader effort to
improve his government's rocky relationship with the emerging superpower.

One of his senior cabinet members - International
Trade Minister Stockwell Day - announced the
visit Tuesday just before departing on his own trip to Asia.

Day will meet with four Chinese cabinet
ministers, Communist party officials, and several
Canadian companies in an effort to drum up trade with the fast-growing giant.

He said the prime minister also wants to expand
relations with a country that expects to see its
economy grow six per cent this year, notwithstanding a global recession.

Harper is expected to make the trip later this
year, when he is already in the region for
November's Asia-Pacific summit in Singapore.

"The prime minister has indicated that he looks
forward to visiting China," Day told a conference
call before heading to Japan, the first stop of his Asia tour.

"He wants to visit as soon as is practically
possible. So stay tuned for that. He's already
had a couple of meetings with President Hu
Jintao, and I know he looks forward to expanding that relationship."

Harper's first meeting with Hu was a famously
fleeting one. They chatted briefly at a public
reception in 2006, and Chinese officials went out
of their way to downplay the meeting's importance to the Canadian media.

The bilateral relationship has been marred by
public arguments over the Chinese regime's spotty human rights record.

Harper and his ministers have frequently
criticized China over issues like Tibet, and the
prime minister has insisted that Canada would not
sacrifice its values for the almighty dollar.

The Chinese, in return, have snubbed Canada by
leaving it off the list of China's approved
travel destinations - one of the few developed
countries in the world not on a travel list that includes even Zimbabwe.

Canadian inclusion would make it easier for the
booming ranks of China's middle class to visit
Canada. According to the World Tourism
Organization, Chinese spending on international
travel was already fifth in the world by 2007 and
had grown more than 20 per cent in the previous year.

Although approved status was granted to Canada
during then-prime minister Paul Martin's 2005
trip to China, it has never been implemented.

Day said he will raise the travel status during
his trip. He said he will also bring up human
rights, but he stressed that commerce is the focus of his trip.

Day said he will meet China's ministers of
commerce, trade, science and technology, and
transport; Communist party officials; and
Canadian companies such as engineering firms
Bombardier and SNC Lavalin, which compete for a
share of the hundreds of billions China is
showering on infrastructure spending.

He brushed aside the notion that China has ranked
low on his government's priority list. Day said
there have been 14 ministerial trips there since
the Tories took office, and said he hopes to see
two-way trade triple over a decade.

"This (trip) is not a one-off," Day said.

But he faced a question from China's official
state-run news agency that raised doubts about
how the Conservative government is perceived in Beijing.

"We haven't seen any comprehensive policy
statement on your government's relations with
China so far," said a journalist from Xinhua, the
Chinese government's official press agency.

"Do you see a cooling down in relations with China?"

After wishing Day a safe trip, the Xinhua
reporter asked what message he hoped to deliver in China.

Day said that he hoped to spread the word about
Canada's solid banks, relatively low business
taxes, and multilingual, educated, productive workforce.

He also told reporters he hoped to tap into
China's growing import market, notably the insatiable demand for raw materials.

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