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Chinese ambassador questions Canada’s support of Hong Kong protesters

China's Ambassador to Canada, Luo Zhaohui, attends a meeting with members of the Globe and Mail's editorial board at the newspaper's head offices in Toronto on Thursday June 26, 2014. In one of his first major speeches since taking over the top diplomatic posting earlier this year, Luo Zhaohui on Tuesday pushed back against Canada’s support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy demonstrators, suggesting the protests could lead to instability.

Chris Young/The Globe and Mail

China's ambassador to Canada is explicitly defending Beijing's position on Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests – even as he presses Ottawa for stronger trade ties to his country.

In one of his first major speeches since taking over the top diplomatic posting earlier this year, Luo Zhaohui on Tuesday pushed back against Canada's support for the demonstrators, suggesting the protests could lead to instability.

"For our deepening economic reform, stability is a must," he told a business audience at a downtown Toronto hotel. "We have to abide by the law."

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His words come just weeks ahead of a trade mission to China by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and a visit from Prime Minister Stephen Harper at next month's APEC Summit. Sino-Canadian relations have been tense in recent months, with each side accusing the other of espionage.

Both Ottawa and Queen's Park have backed the Hong Kong protesters, who are demanding the right to elect their local government without interference from Beijing. But Mr. Luo reinforced his government's interpretation of Hong Kong's Basic Law, which allows a "nominating committee" to screen potential candidates.

"I'm quite optimistic the issue will be resolved peacefully," he said, adding later, "Sometimes there are some issues, some problems come up that block bilateral relations, that block the satisfaction of our bilateral relations."

Foreign Minister John Baird stuck to his guns, saying he would not shy away from pressing Beijing on the matter.

"We have raised our concerns with senior members of the Chinese leadership," his spokesman, Adam Hodge, wrote in an e-mail. "Canada has a frank dialogue with the Chinese on a variety of issues, including human rights, rule of law and prosperity."

Ms. Wynne's spokeswoman, Zita Astravas, reiterated the Premier's pledge to tell Chinese officials to allow the protests to continue.

But Mr. Luo made clear the top subject he wants a dialogue on is business. He called for freer trade between the two countries, "bilateral energy corridors" to funnel oil and natural gas to China and for Canadians to invest more in his country. He even asked the assembled business heavyweights to contact him directly if there was anything he could do to help them set up shop.

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He also touted a series of internal reforms – which he dubbed a "new deal" – aimed at helping economic development. He said Beijing is delegating power to lower levels of government in the hope that decisions can be made more quickly, lifting restrictions on starting a business and making it easier for people to move from the countryside to the city.

He was particularly candid in discussing the recent loosening of China's one-child policy, which will now allow couples to have two children if one parent is an only child.

"I have one daughter. That is my generation's contribution, sacrifice for my country's economic development," he said. "Personally, I really think that [having] two kids is perfect."

And he told his audience that despite China's rollback from double-digit levels of economic growth in recent years, it will still ultimately overtake the United States to become the world's largest economy.

"The slower economic growth … is a price worthwhile for a more sustainable growth," he said.

Despite the friction on human rights, Ms. Wynne adopted a similarly business-oriented refrain Tuesday. She spent part of the day meeting with Xu Ming, Vice-Governor of Jiangsu province, to discuss co-operation between the two provinces' agriculture sectors.

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"We'll build on our past achievements, we'll deepen our ties and hope that will lead to new partnerships that benefit Ontario, Jiangsu and China," she said. "I look forward to a long and mutually prosperous relationship."

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