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Stephen Harper arrives in China to repair two years of bumpy relations with Beijing despite persistent and conflicting opinions within his own Conservative caucus about deepening ties to the authoritarian regime.The Prime Minister's rapprochement with the Chinese is already apparently bearing fruit, with Mr. Harper and Beijing set to announce Canada will become the first country in the Americas to operate a trading hub for the yuan.

During his first stop on this five-day trip, Mr. Harper is making a pilgrimage to the Hangzhou headquarters of Asia's hottest e-commerce site, Alibaba, where he will meet with founder and billionaire Jack Ma. Later in the visit he will hold his first lengthy sit-down with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Back home, however, divisions over China within the governing caucus endure even eight years after the Conservatives won office.

The various factions in the Conservative Party, a group that is really a coalition of libertarians, fiscal conservatives, social conservatives and liberal-minded Red Tories, normally hew to the same ideas about the economy and trade.

But not when it comes to China.

One of Mr. Harper's key lieutenants, Employment Minister Jason Kenney, is leery of moving too close to Beijing given its dismal human-rights record. Mr. Kenney, who played a key role in helping the Conservatives win a majority by converting new Canadians into party supporters, wields a lot of influence in caucus.

Ministers more inclined to engagement with China include John Baird, Joe Oliver and Tony Clement, former Conservative aides say. The reasons? China is now the biggest economy in the world by some measures and Canada's second-largest trading partner.

"There are these two distinct views and Jason is certainly the leader of the view these are bad people, this is a bad system and we engage with them at their peril," one former official who requested anonymity said.

David Mulroney, Canada's ambassador to China between 2009 and 2012, and a proponent of deeper engagement, says both schools of thought have merit. "China is an amazing opportunity for Canada and also a potentially problematic presence in the world and one that will pose problems for us going forward," Mr. Mulroney said.

Canada can't do without Beijing as a foreign partner, but the relationship will become more difficult to manage as an increasingly assertive China throws its weight around, he says.

The divisions in caucus reflect Mr. Harper's own internal conflict between wariness and pragmatism, former officials say.

"These two elements are battling within the Prime Minister," one said.

"It's not just him balancing out" views in cabinet, the ex-official said.

Pragmatism seems to be winning out now, after two years of cooling relations between Ottawa and Beijing.

Mr. Harper now seems determined to fix things after pleadings from business groups to do what he can to spur more two-way commerce.

In early 2012, Canada and China signed an important foreign investment deal. Ottawa dragged its feet on ratifying it – a reflection of caucus ambivalence over China – and only did so only weeks before Mr. Harper's trip.

"My general impression is the Prime Minister is not someone who enjoys interacting with the leadership of China – unlike [former Liberal prime minister Jean] Chrétien, who had a significant rapport with senior Chinese leaders," said Charles Burton, an associate professor of comparative politics at Brock University.

"I frankly think [this trip] is more something that's being done because it needs to be done."