China, Canada taking relations to 'next level' PM says
Trumpeting seven deals that were announced on the first full day of his visit to China, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said relations between the two countries are making great leaps forward.
Talking to reporters at the end of his official itinerary Wednesday, Harper held up the foreign investment promotion and protection agreement as a prime example of those improving relations.
"My sense is the willingness of the Chinese to conclude this agreement indicates to me that they do put increasing strategic importance on two-way investment between our countries," Harper said of the so-called FIPA talks now concluded after a dozen failed rounds over a nearly two decade span.
Pending its legal ratification in both China and Canada, the FIPA is expected to level the playing field between foreign investors and domestic businesses as well as establish a dispute resolution mechanism. Canada already has similar agreements in place with 24 countries, and is negotiating deals with 10 others.
Terms of this deal -- which won't take effect until it is reviewed and legally ratified in both China and Canada anyway -- have not been released.
CTV's Roger Smith says the entourage of Canadian business leaders accompanying the prime minister reacted positively.
"Business people travelling with Harper say this will help guard against arbitrary measures and discrimination sometimes imposed by the Chinese," he said.
"The prime minister is heralding it today as a great step forward."
But aside from the FIPA announcement, Smith says there's not a lot of substance to the day's other deals.
"The agreements being signed today, in such a wide range of areas, are further testimony that we are taking relations to the next level and further strengthening our strategic partnership," Harper said in a statement.
While the prime minister is clearly focused on those high-level links between the two countries, he started the day Wednesday by launching a campaign aimed at the growing number of Chinese who are vacationing abroad.
"It is one of the few industries in the world whose raw material is goodwill and whose finished product is friendship," Harper said at an event launching a campaign to promote Canada as a year-round destination for Chinese travellers.
"And I think the world needs all the friendship and goodwill it can get."
Since 2009, when Beijing added Canada to its list of officially approved travel destinations, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Canada has been rising, including a nearly 25 per cent jump last year.
"The new tourism commission office and marketing campaign being announced today are further signs that this industry, which generates such goodwill between our two great countries, is flourishing," he said, referring to the "Signature Experience Collection" campaign focused on showcasing iconic events and attractions like the annual Calgary Stampede.
Leaving the white cowboy hats worn by some young flag-waving Chinese audience members at the China Youth Services Travel bureau behind, Harper and his wife Laureen played the part of tourists themselves as they toured and posed for photographs at the 600-year-old Temple of Heaven.
In the afternoon, the prime minister sat down for a roundtable with Chinese and Canadian business people including executives from Air Canada, Bombardier, Shell and SNC Lavalin, as well as the heads of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and Western University.
"We like to say the short hand for our approach to creating jobs and economic growth is trade, training taxes," Harper said.
"The first two we want to go up and the third we want to go down."
Then, at 5 p.m. Beijing time, Harper was afforded an official welcome at the Great Hall of the People, followed by a bilateral meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
While their discussion focused on economic issues, it did venture into other topics, such as China's veto on Syrian sanctions.
"I raised, in very clear and strong terms, Canada's position on this issue," Harper later told reporters. "We would hope to see in the future action from the Security Council."
Officials also said the prime minister raised the case of Huseyin Celil, the Canadian citizen serving a life sentence for speaking out on behalf of China's Uighur minority.
"My view has always been that as long as you're frank and respectful, it is in fact necessary to engage China as we would engage every other country on the entire range of issues," Harper said.
"I think the Chinese have gotten more comfortable with that position as we've gone forward and I think we are beginning to achieve things."