Stephen Harper vowed today that his government will not let the pursuit of trade with China dampen Canada's commitment to promoting human rights in that country.
In a speech to business leaders in this city of glittering towers and ubiquitous neon, the Prime Minister predicted that the future of Canada's economy and the world's lay with China and the Pacific Asian nations. "In the 19th and 20th centuries our economy was built largely on trans-Atlantic trade," Mr. Harper told the audience of more than 500. "But it is clear that in the 21st century, trans-Pacific trade will increasingly fuel our economic growth."
Mr. Harper is here this week to promote Canada's interests within China's burgeoning economy.
But "a mutually beneficial economic relationship is not incompatible with a good and frank dialogue on fundamental values like freedom, human rights and the rule of law," he maintained.
The Conservative government's insistence on promoting a human rights agenda with China, its support for the Dalai Lama of Tibet and its concern for Canadian citizens imprisoned in Chinese jails for peacefully protesting against the regime led to a pronounced cooling of relations between the two governments in recent years.
The Prime Minister's visit culminates efforts going back a year and more to repair the breach. But it led Chinese Premier Wen Jaibao to rebuke Mr. Harper when they met in Beijing earlier this week for failing to pay more attention to Sino-Canadian relations. Nonetheless, Mr. Harper declared his determination to continue promoting the principles of democratic governance with China even as his government sought to expand trade ties.
"In relations between China and Canada, we will continue to raise issues of freedom and human rights, and be a vocal advocate and an effective partner for reform, just as we pursue the mutually beneficial economic relationship desired by both our countries," he declared.
As if to remind the Chinese that Canadians have died in defence of freedom in Asia, Mr. Harper carries on to Hong Kong, tomorrow, where he will commemorate the sacrifice of Canadian soldiers who died in the defence of the then-British colony of Hong Kong during the Second World War.
He concludes the trip with a visit to South Korea, where Canadians fought during the Korean War, and where he will address the National Assembly on Monday, before returning to Ottawa.