Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will hold high-level talks with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Parliament Hill on Wednesday as planning gets under way for Mr. Trudeau's official visit to China in the fall.
Mr. Wang is also meeting Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion in what the Chinese government said is the first annual meeting of foreign affairs ministers. The two men will discuss the upcoming G20 summit, global issues and human rights, Mr. Dion's office said.
Charles Burton, a former counsellor at the Canadian embassy in Beijing, expressed surprise that the government had not informed Canadians that it has set up a formalized arrangement for annual talks with China's foreign minister.
"You would have thought if Canada had established a formal mechanism for regular meetings between cabinet ministers of the two countries, normally one would expect that would have been publicly announced. It is quite a major thing," Mr. Burton said in an interview.
Mr. Wang's visit was announced Monday in Beijing and late Tuesday in Ottawa. Usually such visits are made public days before the event.
"The fact that this visit by a foreign minister of a major country has been done more or less secretly, presumably to prevent public demonstrations and representations being made about it, so it looks like the government is going about the China policy process in a way that will limit public debate," Mr. Burton said.
The Prime Minister has made re-engagement with China a key foreign policy initiative as his government presses for a free-trade deal with the world's second-largest economy – even as polls show Canadians have a very negative impression of the Chinese government and are narrowly opposed to a free-trade deal with the country.
A Nanos Research survey, commissioned by The Globe and Mail in February, found that 76 per cent of respondents had a negative or somewhat negative view of the Chinese government, compared with only 2 per cent who had positive and 9 per cent who had somewhat positive opinions.
By a narrow margin, poll respondents also did not like the idea of a China-Canada free-trade deal. Forty-seven per cent said they opposed or somewhat opposed talks, and 41 per cent said they supported or somewhat supported them.
The Nanos poll reached 1,000 Canadians through a telephone and online survey. It is considered accurate to within plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
China has made it a precondition of negotiations on free trade that Canada ensure an energy pipeline from the oil sands to the coast of British Columbia. It also wants the federal government to lift foreign investment restrictions on Chinese state-own enterprises in the oil and gas sector.
Mr. Trudeau promised before last fall's election that he would lift the restrictions that were put in place by the former Conservative government, although Mr. Burton noted that Canada's security agencies have concerns about Chinese control of vital Canadian resource companies.
"You have Canadian security agencies who are concerned about more Chinese state investment leading to more security problems. It seems to be the security agencies, human-rights groups and public opinion at large are wanting more input into the process which we engage China," Mr. Burton said.
Mr. Trudeau's former national security adviser, Richard Fadden, said the Chinese have been heavily engaged in spying and cyber attacks in Canada.
"Their broad approach is to use the vacuum cleaner approach. They'll, you know, pretty well take anything," Mr. Fadden, a former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said in an interview on Sunday. "So I think it's actually quite difficult to balance all of this and make sure we have a work-a-day relationship, while at the same time making it very clear we don't like the cyber attacks."
Mr. Trudeau is planning an official visit of between six and eight days in China around the time of the G20 summit, which will be hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping in the southern city of Hangzhou from Sept. 4-5. Free trade will likely top the agenda.