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China's Premier Li Keqiang talks to Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in front of Chinese and Canadian national flags, during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing Nov. 8.

PETAR KUJUNDZIC/Reuters

China's second-most powerful leader emerged from a meeting with Stephen Harper to say his country's courts alone will decide what happens to two Canadians detained by Beijing on allegations of spying.

Canada has been pressing the Chinese government on its treatment of Kevin and Julia Garratt, two evangelical Christians who ran a coffee shop near the North Korean border and have been held by Beijing without charges for more than three months.

Chinese premier Li Keqiang was asked at a press conference Saturday when Beijing would release the Garratts, who were taken into custody by Security  just days after Ottawa accused China of hacking into Canadian government computers.

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"We believe that judicial authorities in China should be able to handle cases in accordance with the law," Mr. Li said.

"At the same time, the lawful rights and interests of people concerned should also be protected."

Ottawa has been insisting on due process for the Canadian couple.

The premier's insistence that Chinese judges, not pleadings from Canada, will determine the fate of the Garratts suggests Mr. Harper won't get any promises during his trip about their release.

The Canadian prime minister didn't come away empty handed from meetings with top Chinese leadership though.

Beijing formally announced that Canada has won the right to act as a clearing hub for China's currency, the yuan. This makes it the first such hub in the Americas that is sanctioned by China to clear and settle transactions in the Chinese currency.

This will give Canadian companies a competitive advantage as Chinese buyers will be able to purchase things from Canada in their own currency rather than converting their money to U.S. dollars first.

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Canada and China have reached a deal to help underpin the clearing bank so as a last resort there would be a sufficient guarantee to provide Chinese currency in an emergency situation.

Bank of Montreal's C.J. Gavsie predicted the yuan trading hub would create jobs and boost trade with China. "Becoming … a hub will increase the diversity of our financial sector and make Canada an even more appealing place in which to invest and do business," he said.

Mr. Harper also presided over the signing of $2.5-billion in commercial deals between Chinese and Canadian companies including a deal for Bombardier to sell more than $1-billion in aircraft to China Express Airlines. Air Canada also announced a joint venture with Air China that Ottawa estimated to be worth more than $500-million.

Canada's lop-sided trade relationship with China topped the Prime Minister's agenda Saturday as he used a speech to Chinese officials and businesspeople to point out what amounts to a $50-billion imbalance in Beijing's favour.

Mr. Harper said he wants to see China buy far more Canadian goods because 70 per cent of two-way trade today is Chinese imports to Canada.

"To be blunt, we would like Canada's exports to China to grow in the same way that Canadian exports to China have grown," Mr. Harper said.

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"It is time for us to see a greater growth in Canadian business today."

But even as Mr. Harper asked more of China, he also cautioned its leadership that Ottawa will not separate business from human rights.

He said Canadians believe prosperity is rooted not only in economic freedom and the power of the marketplace but also "respect for the rule of law, for democracy and for human rights."

"As Canadians we cannot and should never ignore these principles while doing business, they are not separate concerns."

Mr. Li, for his part, said China wants to buy more Canadian goods but, he pointedly added, he'd like Ottawa to ease export restrictions on technology – controls normally put in place for security reasons.

"I want to say that China has no intention to deliberately pursue a trade surplus.  We are ready to buy marketable and competitive Canadian goods," Mr. Li said, adding pointedly "We hope that Canada will ease restrictions on high-tech exports to China."

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Speaking further on the Garratts, Mr. Li said China respects the rule of law.

"I want to say that China is now building a country under the rule of law and there is clear stipulation in the Chinese constitution that human rights must be respected and protected."

Mr. Harper meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday. Mr. Xi is China's most powerful politician.

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