Harper's China visit wraps up with gift of pandas
John Size, CTVNews.ca
Published Saturday, February 11, 2012 9:35PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 7:25AM EDT
Two giant panda bears will be coming to Canada for the next 10 years, ending Prime Minister Stephen Harper's trade trip to China this week on a positive note.
Harper's accomplishments this trip appear to trump his last foray into the country in 2009. That trip ended with an icy rift between the Asian economic superpower and Canada, something the prime minister was heavily criticized for at home.
"A couple of years later, he's met a lot of top leaders, made a lot of deals and the symbolic payoff seems to be a couple of pandas," CTV's Roger Smith said in an interview from China Saturday.
Harper and his wife Laureen were introduced to one of the pandas, a five-year-old male named Er Shun, when they visited a zoo in the southwestern city of Chongqing. Laureen was photographed holding a baby panda that squirmed as she walked with it in her arms.
The other panda coming to Canada, a female named Ji Li, is staying at another zoo.
The bears will arrive in the country next year and will stay at the Toronto zoo for five years and the Calgary zoo for the remaining five.
It will cost about $1 million a year to host the bears, but zoo officials expect to recoup that expense because of their overwhelming popularity.
While there's been a lot of talk on trade this trip, the most visible accomplishment is the acquisition of the two pandas, Smith added.
Much of the visit was spent cementing ties with China with the bulk of discussion around energy.
"Canada wants to sell more energy and diversify away from its reliance on the American markets . . . that's been a major theme," Smith told CTV News Channel.
Harper met with many of the country's top leaders and developed personal connections and now he's talking about taking the relationship to an even higher level, Smith said.
"The two countries are studying how to make the relationship even deeper and the Chinese have even mused about a free trade deal," he said.
Harper has suggested any free trade deal is a long way off and that there are a lot of obstacles to overcome before any proposal is on the table.
"It's a long-term goal, it's not something we're going to see anytime soon," Smith said.
The prime minister was also vague on discussions with the Chinese leadership on human rights or their veto of the United Nations Security Council's attempt to call for an end of the bloodshed in Syria.
Pressed on specific human rights subjects, Harper said his policy when visiting other countries is not to say anything potentially embarrassing to his host. He did confirm he raised the issues in private, however.
"Harper said it's a sign of the maturing of the relationship between Canada and China, that he feels he can raise the issues, albeit in private, not in public and it still won't undermine efforts to deepen the economic relationship," Smith said.