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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes part in a ceremony to return ceremonial guards to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on Friday, Oct. 24, 2014. He abruptly announced Monday he would cancel his attendance at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit on Nov. 10-11, an announcement that drew criticism in China, where it was seen as a “disappointment” and an unwise decision to place domestic affairs ahead of international concerns.

Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS

There's still a chance Stephen Harper may soon head to China for high-level meetings with Beijing's leadership even though the Prime Minister is skipping a major Asia Pacific summit there so he can commemorate slain soldiers in Canada on Remembrance Day.

There are warnings that key Canadian priorities will fall by the wayside if Mr. Harper can't make the trip.

China watchers say there are ongoing efforts to arrange a bilateral visit for Mr. Harper, one that could occur as early as next week with the goal of ensuring the Prime Minister can meet with senior leaders, such as President Xi Jinping.

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Such a schedule would leave time for Mr. Harper to return to Canada before Nov. 11, when the deaths of two soldiers killed last week will figure prominently in Remembrance Day ceremonies.

He abruptly announced Monday he would cancel his attendance at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit on Nov. 10-11, an announcement that drew criticism in China, where it was seen as a "disappointment" and an unwise decision to place domestic affairs ahead of international concerns.

Canada's business establishment and the family of a detained Canadian couple are urging the Prime Minister to follow through and attend top-level talks in Beijing that had been tentatively scheduled for next week, separate from the APEC summit.

Without the Prime Minister's presence, business leaders say, Canada is unlikely to immediately secure a much-wanted deal to trade Chinese currency at home. It may also squander an opportunity to intercede on behalf of Kevin and Julia Garratt, who have been held for almost three months on suspicion of stealing state secrets but have not been formally arrested.

This visit is still far from certain.

Wenran Jiang, a senior fellow at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and a special adviser to the Alberta government who's in Beijing for a conference, said "working level efforts" are under way. Key details remain to be worked out.

"Will Beijing treat him as a priority with short notice and change schedule when a lot is going on?" he said.

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David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said it's important for Mr. Harper to meet with Mr. Xi, the Chinese President. The Prime Minister's last official visit to China was February 2012 and Mr. Xi has not journeyed to Canada since taking office.

"China is at the best of times hard to understand and it's becoming even a little harder as it becomes bigger and more ambitious," Mr. Mulroney said. He predicts the relationship will grow steadily more difficult to manage in the years ahead.

Building a good rapport with Mr. Xi is key. "He is presiding over everything, including economic reform, so he is the person who is very clearly running China and to whom everyone else will defer and it's important to have a channel of communication open to him," he said.

Substantial work has gone into a bilateral visit with working dates proposed for meetings with the Chinese leadership – Nov. 5 and 6 – that would set the stage for the first formal tête-à-tête between Mr. Harper and Mr. Xi. Advance staff from Ottawa have flown to China to scout locations.

The business community had hoped these meetings would establish Canada as a hub for settlement of China's currency, the renminbi. Senior figures in the banking community had told The Globe and Mail they expected a deal toward that end to be signed in Beijing.

If Beijing grants Canada RMB settlement hub status, Canadian exporters and importers would be able to convert directly from loonies into RMB, saving the expense of first going through U.S. dollars. Some $20-billion in new import and export revenues could also result, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce has estimated.

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The Garratts' childen also want the Prime Minister to come to China. "If Mr. Harper is there, he's less than an hour flight from where two innocent Canadians are detained," said Simeon Garratt, the couple's eldest son. "I would prefer that he go and make a point of having my parents released."

But the Prime Minister's Office has yet to confirm whether he will attend amid behind-the-scenes political jockeying that stands to introduce new fissures into a relationship already damaged in recent months by mutual allegations of spying.

"It is still to be determined whether he will come to China for a bilateral visit," a Canadian official said Tuesday.

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