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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Harper says trade should not come at price of silence on human rights

December 7, 2009

By Julian Beltrame (CP) ? December 4, 2009

SHANGHAI, China ? Prime Minister Stephen Harper is telling Chinese
leaders they should not expect silence on human rights as the tradeoff
for expanded economic ties.

The Canadian leader delivered his first and only major speech of his
four-day visit Friday night in Shanghai, China's glittering commercial
centre that proclaims the country's emergence as an economic power in
towers of neon.

And he made it clear he believes the two countries have much to gain
from a stronger economic partnership, especially in the energy sector.

Canada is an emerging energy superpower, the world's seventh biggest oil
producer, third largest natural gas producer and largest producer of
uranium, he told a Canada-China audience of about 500 business leaders,
many involved in bilateral trade.

And China, to continue fuelling its spectacular growth, will need stable
sources of power that Canada can provide, he said.

Canadian firms can also help China adapt to cleaner technologies for the
future green energy, the prime minister said.

At one point, Harper turned salesman expounding on the advantages of
Chinese investment in Canada, including falling tax rates and low
government debt. This was quite a reversal for a leader of a party that
a few years ago chafed at the idea of China buying into Canada's
resources sector.

"But just as trade is a two-way street, so too is dialogue," he added.

"Our government believes and has always believed that a
mutually-beneficial economic relationship is not incompatible with a
good and frank dialogue on fundamental values like freedom, human rights
and the rule of law."

Harper went on to say that in the Canadian experience the two are
inseparable, noting that 1.3 million Canadians of Chinese origin are
thriving in the pluralistic society.

"And so, in relations between China and Canada, we will continue to
raise issues of freedom and human rights, be a vocal advocate and an
effective partner for human rights reform, just as we pursue the
mutually beneficial economic relationship desired by both our countries."

The section was greeted with silence from the crowd of businessmen, who
had liberally applauded the mention of trade progress he had already
achieved during the visit, calls against protectionism and an
announcement Canada would open up four new trade consulates.

Former Conservative MP John Reynolds, now a businessman who said he
spends three months a year in China, said the Chinese would not be put
off by the comments.

"If you talk to business people they understand politics, they
understand Canada is a friend, they understand we have resources they
need and that we can do business both ways," he said.

"Every country says that (about human rights). Fact is trade has not
suffered and this visit will be like a rocket shot to everybody."

He noted that during the supposed chill in relations, bilateral trade
between the two countries has expanded by more than 10 per cent a year
and continues to grow.

Still, Harper's comments were a fresh reminder that his first visit here
exposed a store of pent-up slights, real or imagined, that the Chinese
government felt strongly enough to break diplomatic protocol over.

Harper has a lot of "repair work" to do on Canada's relationship with
China, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff told reporters during an
appearance in Montreal Friday.

With an American economy that continues to struggle, China is more
important than ever, Ignatieff added.

"We've all had a wake up call in Canada about how important China is and
Mr Harper has taken a very long time to wake up," he said.

"It's perfectly obvious he should have there four years ago and we've
lost ground and we've lost time so I hope we can make up the ground."

NDP leader Jack Layton said it's pretty hard for Harper to lecture China
on human rights given the questions that have been raised over how his
government has dealt with the Canadian military's transfer of prisoners
to Afghan authorities as well as Canada's refusal to sign on to the U.N.
declaration of human rights for aboriginals.

"I think you always have to be careful when you live in a glass house
when it comes to throwing stones," Layton told reporters in Winnipeg Friday.

The prime minister's past frosty attitude toward China has been a main
theme among the Chinese leadership since Harper's plane touched down
Wednesday afternoon, blowing into a diplomatic storm during his meeting
with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on Thursday when Wen scolded Harper for
waiting so long to visit.

In case the message was lost, Wen gave Chinese media and a TV station
interviews after their meeting in which he was even more blunt in
blaming the Harper government for the damaged relations that have
occurred since 2006.

The list of complaints cited by official newspapers against the Harper
Conservatives include Harper's refusal to attend the 2008 Beijing
Olympics, his embrace of the Dalai Lama and support of Tibet, along with
numerous criticisms of China's treatment of its own people.

"We are reluctant to see Canada alienate us in recent years," Wen was
quoted as saying by the official China Daily. "That has hampered our
trade and personal exchanges.

"The key is mutual respect, equality and taking care of each other's
core interests. I hope the visit can solve the problem of mutual trust."

However, Wen says the Chinese government is ready to turn the page and
the newspaper noted that Harper was making headway in trying to "warm up
cool to icy ties."

Earlier in the day, the prime minister visited the Forbidden City in the
heart of Beijing and held a short meeting with Wu Bangguo, regarded as
the third most powerful person in the government.
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