Harper's Olympic absence noticed in Beijing
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Monday, August 11, 2008 10:34PM EDT
A visit from Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson to Beijing is doing little to quell calls for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to join other world leaders attending the 2008 Olympic Summer Games.
About 80 other world leaders have attended the Games, and Harper's absence has not gone unnoticed in China, a former Canadian ambassador to China told CTV News.
"I think they care about the Canadian relationship," Howard Balloch said of the Chinese government. "Canada has had a very important relationship with China over a very long period of time."
The local media in China have even referred to a "Canadian boycott" of the Games, despite the presence of Emerson and Helena Guergis, secretary of state for sport.
Even Emerson seemed to admit that Harper's presence would be helpful.
"It would be very, very nice to see the prime minster come to China, but I don't want to get the cart ahead of the horse. One thing at a time," Emerson told reporters over the weekend. "Could he possibly be here for closing ceremonies? I can't comment on that. I don't know."
Emerson's comments seem to be leaving the door ajar for a Harper visit, perhaps for the closing ceremony. With Canada hosting the next Olympic Games, some believe a prime ministerial visit should be in the works.
"We need to have closer ties to countries like China and certainly by being at the closing ceremony that might help," David McKay, Canadian wrestling coach, told CTV News in Beijing.
But on CTV's Question Period Sunday another Tory MP, Secretary of State for Multiculturalism Jason Kenney, downplayed the importance of a Harper visit.
"Frankly, Canadian prime ministers don't go to the Olympics," Kenney said. "People keep saying that it's not a political event, so the prime minister's view is, 'Why would a political leader go to a non-political event?'"
Harper has not visited China since he became prime minister in 2006, which has worried business leaders who feel that may be hurting trade relations.
China is Canada's second biggest trade partner with almost $50 billion in trade between the two countries in 2007, according to DFAIT.
Harper is viewed as being much more bullish on criticizing China's human rights record than his Liberal predecessors, who often led trade missions to the country.
"The prime minister has been clear, we will never sacrifice human rights for the almighty dollar," Kenney said.
The Conservatives point out that Harper met with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the G8 summit meetings in Japan last month and thus, doesn't need to talk to him in Beijing.
But critics of Harper's position point out that U.S. President George Bush has managed to have it both ways. He bluntly criticized China's human rights record on the eve of his visit to China, and then stood smiling for photo ops with the Chinese president and U.S. athletes when he arrived in Beijing.
With a report from CTV's Lisa LaFlamme