Canada's former prime minister said on Monday that the country's current leader was wrong not to attend the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics and predicted Canada could pay a heavy price for his absence.
Jean Chretien said Prime Minister Stephen Harper should have been at the celebration given China's economic and demographic clout and the traditionally good relationship between the two countries.
"It is the second biggest economy in the world, and in 50 years it will be the biggest," the former Liberal leader said after a speech at an annual meeting of the Canadian Bar Association.
For decades, "We established very good relations, relatively speaking, with China. And suddenly, you break the bridge. It would have been easy just to be there."
Harper has not explained why he chose not to attend, saying only that he had never planned to go. He has insisted that his absence is not a reaction to any public pressure.
However, the Conservative prime minister, who has not visited China since taking office in 2006, said earlier this month he hopes the Games will prompt greater change in the country.
A call to Harper's office was not immediately returned.
Canada was represented at the Aug 8 opening ceremonies by Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson, while Secretary of State for Sport Helena Guergis and British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell also attended.
Chretien said the so-called issue of democracy should not have been a factor in any world leader's decision not to go to Beijing, adding he believes China has made a lot of progress in respecting human rights in recent years.
Chretien, Canada's Liberal prime minister from 1993 to 2003, said relations between China and Canada have deteriorated since the Conservatives came to power.
Canada has fallen to the bottom of the list of countries China wants to do business with, Chretien said.
"Ask any businessman who goes to China and they'll tell you that. As a Canadian, I deplore the fact we've lost our position in the world," said Chretien.
IOC invites Nepal's new PM
Nepal's new Maoist prime minister will likely travel to Beijing to attend the closing ceremony of the Olympics, a party official said Tuesday, in what would be his first trip abroad as the country's leader.
Prachanda was sworn in on Monday as the country's first prime minister after the abolition of the 239-year-old monarchy.
The International Olympic Committee had invited the former guerrilla chief to attend Sunday's closing ceremony in the Chinese capital, a Maoist spokesman said.
"We are very close to deciding to send the prime minister for the closing ceremony of the Olympics to be participated by many foreign dignitaries," Krishna Bahadur Mahara said.
Niranjan Basnet, a senior foreign ministry official, said Prachanda was scheduled to leave for Beijing on Saturday and return home next Tuesday.
Nepal, struggling to emerge from months of political uncertainty, was represented by a former minister during the opening ceremony of the Games.