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Prime Minister Stephen Harper applauds as Chinese Ambassador Lan Lijun makes his way to the podium to deliver a speech marking 40 years of diplomatic relations with China at an event in Ottawa on Oct. 13, 2010. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper applauds as Chinese Ambassador Lan Lijun makes his way to the podium to deliver a speech marking 40 years of diplomatic relations with China at an event in Ottawa on Oct. 13, 2010. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

PM hails close ties with China Add to ...

In his warmest endorsement of Sino-Canadian relations, Stephen Harper pitched Canada as an energy superpower capable of meeting China's insatiable need for energy.

And in a noticeable softening of his past rhetoric toward China, the Prime Minister said Canada could talk to China about human rights in a "respectful" manner that does not harm trade relations.

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"As the structure of the world economy changes, more and more, we are in a position to co-operate for our mutual benefit," Mr. Harper said in a speech Wednesday to a large gathering of Chinese and Canadian business leaders, diplomats and academics.

"China needs a stable source of energy to fuel its continuing growth; Canada is an emerging energy superpower," Mr. Harper added.

"In other words, in the context of global economic developments, it is clear that the strategic partnership between Canada and China has never been more promising. Our countries have both performed relatively well in the global recession, and we have been on the right side in the crucial deliberations in the G20 over the past two years."

The Prime Minister moved to distance himself from his past criticism of Beijing's human-rights record.

"The friendship between Canada and China has also grown in recent years in the context of a frank and respectful dialogue on the universal principles of human rights, and the rule of law."

Mr. Harper was speaking to delegates gathered in Ottawa for a two-day conference, sponsored by the University of Alberta, that celebrates the 40th anniversary of relations between China and Canada.

The upbeat tone was a marked departure from the hard views he first expressed toward China after coming to power in 2006.

Four years ago, Mr. Harper said Canada would not sell out to the "almighty dollar." Business groups accused him of taking too rigid a posture, one that ignored the need to do business with a huge economic player.

In November of 2006, Mr. Harper had this to say about the balance between trade and human rights in dealing with China:

"I think Canadians want us to promote our trade relations worldwide, and we do that, but I don't think Canadians want us to sell out important Canadian values - our belief in democracy, freedom, human rights. ... They don't want us to sell that out to the almighty dollar."

Mr. Harper travelled to China last year for the first time to shore up relations after being accused of giving the country short shrift.

He was originally chided by China's leadership for not visiting sooner but by the end of the visit had won a long-sought "approved destination" agreement to boost tourism between the two countries.

In his speech Wednesday, Mr. Harper all but laid to rest past misgivings he may have harboured toward China.

He said Chinese companies could look to Canada as one of the best places to do business.

"Canada has low and falling tax rates, a low debt-to-GDP ratio, and an environment welcoming to foreign investment," he said.

"Chinese exporters seek fast and efficient access to North American markets."

Mr. Harper pitched Canada's British Columbia ports of Prince Rupert and Vancouver and competitive alternatives to their American counterparts. He also celebrated the recent opening of the Chinatown Gateway in Ottawa.

"Let it also inspire us to move forward in friendship, for the good of our two great countries."

And the Prime Minister fondly recalled his trip to China as he extolled the futuristic skyline of Shanghai and how much he enjoyed a shopping excursion to buy tea.

 

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