China talks must go beyond oil: Opposition
Published Monday, February 6, 2012 8:59PM EST
The official Opposition is calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to broaden trade talks with China beyond energy during his visit to the country this week.
Harper boarded a plane in Ottawa around midday Monday for a four-day visit designed to strengthen ties with the Asian giant.
Major powerbrokers from Canada's energy sector are travelling with Harper, as part of an entourage that also includes a number of representatives from Canada's agricultural, transportation and education sectors.
The presence of presidents from several oil and gas companies, some of whom are involved in major pipeline projects, highlights the Chinese interest in Canadian energy.
But the NDP says the prime minister must address issues such as the loss of manufacturing jobs in Canada.
"If these trade talks are only about oil, which is a wonderful resource we are giving away as fast as we can, then we will have failed the hundreds of thousands of Canadians and our children, who are looking for productive employment," Jinny Sims, the NDP's international co-operation and deputy foreign affairs critic, told CTV News Channel.
"This has to be about far more than oil. This has to be about manufacturing, and it has to be looking at trade in the widest spectrum."
This week's visit comes as an 18-month hearing process continues for the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which is meant to transport Alberta bitumen to British Columbia for eventual export to Asia.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who is also on the China trip with the prime minister, has said Chinese investment in Canadian oil sands could be beneficial as long as it's measured.
"We should be very clear we don't want anyone to own all of a Canadian commodity, all of a Canadian natural resource," Baird told CTV's Question Period on Sunday.
U.S. President Barack Obama's recent rejection of the Alberta-Texas Keystone XL pipeline appears to have ramped up government hopes for the Northern Gateway.
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver has been vocal about his hopes for a more streamlined hearing process and has stressed the importance of Canada expanding its oil market beyond the United States.
But local citizens groups and First Nations communities in British Columbia have been vocal in their opposition to the Northern Gateway project.
Gregory Chin, chair of the China Research Group at the Centre for International Governance, said developing China as a market for Canadian oil "is really essential" given that it's the fastest growing economy in the world.
"It's going to be extremely important for Canada to diversify beyond the United States at a time when Canadians and the Canadian government are trying to secure prosperity for Canadians," Chin told CTV's Power Play in an interview from Kitchener, Ont.
Greg Stringham, vice president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said Canada must exploit the interest in its energy products, especially in Asian markets such as China, Japan and Korea.
"With the growth that's going on the thirst for not just oil but let's remember natural gas as well, which is very abundant right now in North America, is very strong and growing," Stringham told Power Play.
Wenran Jiang, founder of the University of Alberta's China Institute and a government adviser, said if Northern Gateway is stalled, China could sell oil production to the U.S. and buy additional crude on the open market.
While energy is high on the agenda for Harper's China visit, the Prime Minister is also expected to push other issues during his meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.
Federal officials have said that China's human rights record as well as ongoing violence in Syria and concerns over Iran will be on the agenda.
After China joined Russia in vetoing a UN Security Council resolution that called for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down, Baird told CTV's Question Period that he planned to raise the issue with Chinese officials.
Sims said rather than compromise trade talks with China, raising the issue of the UN veto is imperative for both Harper and Baird who have both "spoken very passionately" about the resolution.
"While we're there, absolutely we should be using this opportunity to try to understand why China vetoed, and then using our persuasive powers to persuade them to not veto so that there can be united sanctions against Syria," Sims said.
While Baird and Harper have been urged to address human rights issues with the Chinese government, a group of B.C. aboriginals is calling on Chinese officials to bring up Canada's human rights record, particularly with respect to the First Nations population.
The group has written two letters, one to Hu and another that is making the rounds among Chinese media, which outline a number of issues China should find troubling about Canada.
The problems include the number of missing and murdered aboriginal women, as well as the proportion of First Nations inmates in Canada's jails.
Chief Larry Nooski, one of five chiefs to sign the letter, said he wants to help China understand "the facts of life" for aboriginals.
With files from The Canadian Press