The civilian nuclear accord between Canada and India announced over the weekend proves that both governments are serious about renewing their relationship. Now the question for Prime Minister Stephen Harper as he prepares for his next foreign jaunt is: How do the Chinese feel about us?
Canadian business interests were delighted with the Canada-India accord, which has been months in the making.
"We're very excited" about the new opportunity to sell into the Indian market, said Lyle Kahn, a spokesman for Canadian uranium giant Cameco. "The Indian market represents a very significant opportunity for Cameco. It's the second fastest growing market in the world behind China."
India is planning a 15-fold increase in its nuclear capacity over the next 20 years, requiring an additional seven million to nine million pounds of uranium, and the agreement ensures that Cameco and other Canadian firms will be in the hunt for contracts.
Mr. Harper and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made it clear that an accord was an important priority for both countries. In Port of Spain, where they were attending the Commonwealth conference, Dr. Singh declared that "the civil nuclear agreement is a very important step forward, a milestone for the development of our relationship."
"... I thank the Prime Minister [Harper]from the core of my heart for having expedited this process beyond my expectations," he said.
But if India's civilian nuclear future has potential, China's is seemingly limitless: six of the 10 nuclear reactor construction projects that got under way this year worldwide were in China. State planners are constantly revising nuclear projections upward: the government wants nuclear energy to provide up to 80 gigawatts of its needs - about double the power needs of Spain - by 2020.
Mr. Harper leaves for China tomorrow for a three-day visit.
But since taking office, the Harper government has been cool toward China, not least because of anti-communist ideology among some Conservatives.
"There were many Conservatives who had views on China and the nature of government and treatment of people and human rights and I think there had to be a period of time when the government would come to grips with some of the issues," former Conservative trade minister David Emerson told the Canadian Press. "I think the Conservative members are [now]understanding that you don't have to give up your fundamental beliefs to pursue an engagement necessary for the country."
China exports far more to Canada than we send to it. With the U.S. market stagnant, perhaps for years to come, increasing exports to the Middle Kingdom is vital to Canada's long-term prosperity.
Mr. Harper will be seeking increased access to the Chinese market for Canadian financial services and manufactured goods and an investment-protection agreement to reassure Canadian companies investing in China. And, of course, Mr. Harper will hope that the 1.4 million Canadians of Chinese origins will notice that he met with Chinese leaders and toured cities that are, for many Canadians, home towns.