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Harper quietly holds face-to-face talks with Chinese propaganda chief

Li Changchun arrives at the London Book Fair on April 15, 2012. Mr. Li, head of propaganda and member of the Communist Party of China's Standing Committee of the Politburo, later met British Prime Minister David Cameron.

PAUL HACKETT/Reuters

One of China's most powerful figures slipped into Ottawa unannounced. Unless you were watching Chinese TV.

Li Changchun is ranked No. 5 in the Chinese hierarchy, one of the nine members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China, and the party's propaganda chief. When he arrived in Ottawa Thursday, he met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The government of Canada had never announced the powerful official was coming.

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However, Mr. Li's visit was covered widely by Chinese television and print media like state news agency Xinhua. And then, after Mr. Li's meeting with the Prime Minister, Mr. Harper's PMO sent out a photograph of the two men chatting, just before 8:30 on Thursday night. It was the first time they'd told the press about Mr. Li's visit.

On Friday, the PMO would not say what the two discussed and played down the face-to-face meeting as a "courtesy call."

Chinese officials said Mr. Li's visit was to discuss a variety of topics, notable cultural exchanges. Mr. Li issued a statement on Canada-Chinese relations. He also met Governor-General David Johnston and was to meet Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird Friday night, as well as witnessing the signing of an agreement on "cultural co-operation" and the official opening Carleton University's Confucius Institute. He is to travel to Kingston on Saturday.

Mr. Li has been on a tour. He'd just come from London, where he'd met British Prime Minister David Cameron to talk about relations. But he was also there to talk about the case of Bo Xilai, another ranking Communist Party official who has been suspended from his Politburo amid accusations his wife killed British businessman Neil Heywood. There have also been rumours Mr. Li is reassuring foreign leaders that the change in China's leadership will go ahead smoothly this fall.

Mr. Harper's government, however, barely mentioned the three-day visit of the powerful Communist Party official. How powerful? Forbes ranked Mr. Li No. 19 on a list of the world's most powerful people. In their words, he "controls what 1.3 billion Chinese see, hear, speak." As chairman of the party's Central Guidance Commission for Building Spiritual Civilization, he is the de facto controller of media and information censorship.

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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