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All aboard Dalton McGuinty's Shanghai Express

I'm spending my week following Dalton McGuinty around China. It's my first visit here, but the Ontario Premier's fourth in seven years, which led to a bunch of people asking me before I left why exactly he comes here so much.

A little time here, and the better question might be why he doesn't visit more often.

The Canadian consulate in Shanghai seems to spend most of its time dealing with visiting premiers and ministers, and with good reason. All concerned have awoken to China's seemingly limitless investment potential - whether it's Chinese investments in Canada, or Canadian companies getting opportunities in China - and they're vying with each to tap into it. For Canadian governments, that means helping build relationships and that in turn, by nature of the business culture here, means connecting in person as often as possible.

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Of course, there's no way a sitting premier is going to come two or three times a year. But I've heard suggestions that an economic development minister - in this case Sandra Pupatello, who's along for the trip - should come at least that often.

There's an obvious political reason not to do that, of course. Trips overseas aren't cheap, and they're often portrayed as junkets. An opposition party could very easily make hay about overly frequent flying.

For what it's worth, there are other potential concerns with these trips (which I'll probably get into in print shortly), but cushy junkets they're not. I've been able to use some downtime to explore neighbourhoods or have some local food, because some of the meetings are private. But the staff are having a pretty joyless time: working, sleeping, eating mostly in their hotel, and taking in sights only if it's on the way to their events. I envy McGuinty - who's fighting off the jet lag as he navigates various speaking engagements and meetings, without even taking a day at the start to acclimatize - even less.

Still, most people don't get to come here at all. So naturally, they question even the current frequency of visits. So governments are left trying to strike the right balance, achieving optics that impress the Chinese without offending Canadians.

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Political Feature Writer

Adam Radwanski is The Globe and Mail's political feature writer. More

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