In Ottawa Friday, China’s President and Canada’s Prime Minister announced a formal “strategic partnership” between the two countries, while officials signed a number of bilateral agreements on air and rail transport, food inspection, health research and nuclear R&D.
The two leaders pledged to double trade between Canada and China within 5 years, it’s now around $30 billion a year. China is Canada’s second-largest trading partner, after the United States.
With reference to China’s human rights record, Prime Minister Paul Martin said that he and President Hu Jintao had “open and frank” discussions about Tibet, Falun Gong and 10 human rights cases.
With several hundred followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement meditating and exercising outside the news conference on Parliament Hill, Hu — in one of his more diplomatic responses — said: “Given the different national conditions of China and Canada and given our different history and cultural traditions, it is quite normal for our two countries to have different views about human rights.”
The 62-year old Chinese President said the issue of Tibet independence is a non-starter and — speaking through an interpreter — added: “We hope that the Dalai Lama will come to the right judgment of the situation, reverse his position (on independence) and really do something useful and beneficial for the country and for his ethnic group in his lifetime.”
Taiwan, which has existed for decades in a diplomatic grey zone, is permanently wedded to China, said Hu. He said there are “discordant noises” coming from Canada on the matter, apparently a reference to a Conservative MP’s private member’s bill that would establish some government-to-government links with Taiwan. Hu warned: “We hope that this question can be appropriately addressed so as not to undermine the political foundation of China-Canada relations.”
Canada spends about $50 million annually on foreign development in China, much of it fostering rights research and legal development there. Conservative MPs asked this week why such Canadian aid is necessary in a country that holds $750 billion in foreign currency reserves.
As for some well-documented cases of Chinese industrial spying in Canada, Hu at first ignored the question altogether, before a mischievous prime minister reminded him. “Let me address this question in a very brief way,” said Hu. “Actually this is a non-existent question.”
Hu was making his first visit to North America since taking office nearly three years ago and is only the third Chinese president to visit Canada.
The more than 1 million ethnic Chinese in Canada are the largest minority of Canada’s 33 million people. With the fastest-growing economy in the world and the rapid urbanization of their homeland, the Chinese are hungry for more oil and natural resources, which Canada can provide.
Hu was to visit Toronto and Niagara Falls this weekend, before travelling to Mexico City and the United Nations in New York next week. He then goes to Vancouver before returning to Beijing on Sept. 17.
President Bush cancelled a meeting with Hu this week, citing Hurricane Katrina. They are expected to meet on the sidelines of the U.N. summit next week in New York.