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PM doesn't shy away from human rights in China

December 7, 2009 News Staff, December 3, 2009

Prime Minister Stephen Harper received silence from Chinese business
leaders when he told them Canada would continue to bring up human rights
issues and not stay quiet in exchange for stronger economic ties between
the two countries.

"In relations between China and Canada, we will continue to raise issues
of freedom and human rights," he in a speech in Shanghai Friday.

"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 said.

This part of the speech, part of Harper's first-ever visit to China, was
greeted with silence from the businessmen, who had applauded his earlier
focus on trade progress and an announcement Canada would open up four
new trade consulates.

Former Conservative MP John Reynolds, now a businessman who spends three
months a year in China, told The Canadian Press that the Chinese would
not be put off by the comments.

"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."

NDP leader Jack Layton said Harper should not lecture China on its human
rights record, considering the questions raised over whether Canada
transferred prisoners to Afghan authorities where they were tortured.

"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.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said Harper should have visited China
earlier, saying the prime minister has a lot of "repair work" to do on
Canada's relationship with China.

"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," Ignatieff said.

In the rest of his speech, Harper said Canada and China both have much
to gain from a stronger economic partnership, especially in the energy

He told the business leaders that Canada is rich in oil, natural gas and
uranium that China can use to fuel its own economic growth.

He also said Canadian businesses can help China shift toward green energy.

He told the leaders that investing in Canada is good business, because
of falling taxes and low government debt.

Earlier in the day, Harper met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on
Thursday and trumpeted several diplomatic victories, despite a couple of
awkward moments.

Harper, who is travelling with his with Laureen, was scolded by Wen for
the fact that five years have passed since a Canadian prime minister has
visited China.

Wen later gave Chinese media and a TV station interviews where he blamed
the Harper government for the damaged relations.

"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."

"I hope the visit can solve the problem of mutual trust."

In return, Harper noted that no Chinese leader had visited Canada over
the same period of time.

Despite Wen's upbraiding, Harper managed to achieve Canada's
longstanding desire for approved destination status from Beijing -- a
shift that is expected to substantially boost Chinese tourism to Canada.
He also achieved several other small victories, such as the lifting of
the Chinese ban on Canadian pork products.

Canada-China relations have been tense in recent years. Beijing has also
been frustrated by Ottawa's complaints about the treatment of
Uygher-Canadian dissident Huseyin Celil.

Official newspapers say Harper slighted the Chinese government by
refusing to attend the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in addition to embracing
the Dalai Lama's criticism of the treatment of people in Tibet.

The China Daily did acknowledge that Harper was making headway in trying
to "warm up cool to icy ties."
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