Time to reenergize Canada-China relationship, Canadian observers say

09:17, December 02, 2009      

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After four years in office, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will visit Beijing this week -- a trip many influential Canadians believe is long overdue.

To gauge Canadians' views of the Prime Minister's trip to China, Xinhua recently interviewed leading Canadian academics, former politicians and other opinion shapers.

A SIGNIFICANT TRIP

All the interviewees agree that this is a very significant trip, for both China and Canada, given China's stature on the world stage continues to grow.

"I think it is extremely important that China and Canada reenergize their relationship," David Emerson, Canada's former International Trade Minister, told Xinhua during a phone interview. He called the visit "an important milestone."

Former Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Pierre S. Pettigrew said the delay in making the visit was a bad start but the prime minister was correcting his mistakes.

"It took the prime minister a long time, almost four years in office before visiting China," he said.

However, Barbara McDougall, Canada's former Secretary of State for External Affairs in the early 1990s, said the timing of the Prime Minister's visit was good. "I think it will be a comfortable and productive meeting," McDougall said.

Peter Harder, President of the Canada-China Business Council, said it was an interesting moment for Harper's visit, given he was the chairman of the upcoming G8 and co-chairman of the G20 summits. Harder said the most important "deliverable" of this visit was that it took place.

"Traditionally, China and Canada have had very good relations, and this goes back a long time," said Gregory Chin, who served in Canada's embassy in Beijing from 2004 to 2006. This is an opportune moment for Prime Minister Harper and Chinese leaders to strengthen their personal relationship.

Jean Michel Laurin, Vice-President for Global Business Policy at Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, said he expected the PM's visit to help "Canadian companies and Chinese companies do more business."

TRADE, CLIMATE CHANGE, ENERGY

The observers said trade, climate change, and energy cooperation were likely to be among the major areas of discussion.

Nevertheless, given the world economic turmoil since late last year, the state of the global economy would also be on the agenda of both leaders.

"China has been leading Asia into economic recovery, and is becoming a more important partner to both the United States and Canada. The economy will certainly be the (most) important topic (during the visit)," said Pettigrew.

Further fuelling these discussions of the economy is the fact that next summer, as Peter Harder noted, Canada will host two key international summits, the G8 and G20. China is an influential member of the G20.

Dr. Alan Alexandroff at the University of Toronto said it would be important for Prime Minister Harper to ask for President Hu's views about what ought to be on the agenda at the G20, so Canadians could learn more about China's priorities and interests.

THIS IS NOT A ONE-OFF VISIT

One question that always hovers over trips such as Harper's is what evidence will observers weigh in order to judge whether the visit was successful?

"No doubt, the Chinese leaders and the Canadian government will do everything they can to make this meeting successful," said Harder of the Canada China Business Council. "I hope they would commit to the idea that this is not a one-off visit but the first in a series of visits. The two leaders can instruct their ministers and government staff to enhance the Canada-China investment relationship." This could be a theme for further interactions and talks at future meetings.

"If I were planning this trip, I wouldn't have high expectations in terms of particular accomplishments. I would have expectations about rebalancing bilateral relationships in a positive way, so that the two countries can work together on global issues," said McDougall, who used to hold a variety of ministerial level positions in Canadian government.

Emerson said the meeting sent a signal that Canada and China were continuing to build on their friendship and partnership that had existed between the two countries for many years. He said: "Ties cooled down in recent years. And it's time to get back down to building up friendship again."

In April, Canada's Minister of International Trade, Stockwell Day, announced that Canada would open new trade offices this year in Nanjing, Qingdao, Shenyang and Wuhan.

China-Canada economic ties have evolved from small, simple-item commodity trade into an all-dimensional cooperation covering trade in commodity and services, capital flows and personnel exchanges.

According to Chinese statistics, two-way trade increased more than 100 times from 150 million U.S. dollars in the early days of China-Canada diplomatic relations to 15.5 billion dollars in 2004.

Source:Xinhua
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