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Canada looks to renew ties with China
By Zhang Haizhou (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-10-30 08:03

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper will make his first visit to China since taking office in 2006, aiming to not only boost trade but repair a strained relationship.

Harper, leader of his nation's Conservatives party, will be in China from Dec 2-6, a trip that former Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien, a Liberal, said is "better late than never".

Foreign experts noted that Harper's rationale to visit China is based on the global economic recession.

"Canada is committed to a strong relationship with China that reflects our mutual respect and the need for practical cooperation," Harper said in a statement.

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China-Canada trade ties robust

Trade has been developing between the two nations recently. Oil producer PetroChina agreed in August to purchase a 60-percent stake in two oil sands projects in western Canada for $1.7 billion.

The MacKay River and Dover oil sands projects owned by private Athabasca Oil Sands Corp are located in the northeastern part of the Alberta province - Harper's base of support.

Trade volume between China and Canada reached $22.9 billion, an increase of 2.9 percent, during the first half year of 2009.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu yesterday confirmed Harper's visit but would not elaborate further.

Paul Martin, Harper's predecessor, was the last Canadian prime minister who visited China. Martin stayed in China for three days in early 2005 after Premier Wen Jiabao's trip to the Canadian capital of Ottawa in 2003.

Relations between the two countries had been strained by fierce criticism in Canada of China's human rights stance since Harper's party came to power in 2006.

Harper, who was absent from 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, met with the Dalai Lama in October last year in what the Canadian government described then as "historic."

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said at that time the meeting "hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and severely undermined Sino-Canadian relations".

Canada, however, has always valued "its important bilateral relationship with China," according to the prime minister's spokesman Dimitri Soudas. He pointed to more than 18 Canadian ministerial visits to China in the past five years, AFP reported yesterday.

But Chretien noted that he visited China "eight or nine times" in the three years after he was elected prime minister in 1993.

"Our foreign policy has changed a lot," said Chretien, who stayed in office until 2003. "We have lost a lot of ground in China and that is not good."

A Chinese analyst said bilateral ties have been inconsistent as exchanges among officials between both countries have been inadequate.

Wang Honggang, from the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said Canada's domestic political climate has shifted since Harper's Conservatives party took office. Wang said the party has played up China's stance on human rights, which he said has "negatively influenced diplomatic relations."

Next year, Canada will celebrate 40 years of diplomatic ties with China, its third largest export market after the United States and the UK.

Harper's trip also coincides with the 100th anniversary of the establishment of a trade commissioner service office in Shanghai.