Canada Energy: China To Push Pact With Canada On Stephen Harper Visit, Envoy Says

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CANADA CHINA ENERGY OIL SANDS
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao (R) and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper (L) toast during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on December 3, 2009. (LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images) | AFP/Getty Images

OTTAWA - China wants to forge a "win-win" energy partnership with Canada that would set an example for the world, while also satisfying its "huge" demand for resources.

China's ambassador to Canada, Zhang Junsai, offered Beijing's view exclusively to The Canadian Press as Prime Minister Stephen Harper prepares for his return trip to the Asian economic giant in two weeks.

Not surprisingly, energy and resources will be high on the agenda for Harper's visit, the envoy said.

"China is undergoing rapid industrialization and urbanization, and its demand for energy and resources is simply huge. Canada, on the other hand, is rich in energy and resources, which also boasts for its stable political situation as well as favourable conditions for investment," Zhang wrote in a 1,100-word statement that he penned in response to an interview request.

"The two countries have every reason to forge a stable and win-win partnership in the long run in the field of resources."

The Chinese embassy said Zhang was too busy for an interview as the country enters its New Year celebrations this week.

Zhang's sweeping statement provides insights into how Beijing's communist leaders view relations with Canada, and how important Alberta's vast oil reserves are to fuelling China's booming economy.

In the last year alone, Chinese state-owned enterprises have invested $5 billion in Canada's resource sector, the ambassador noted.

Harper has made it clear that he views China and its Asian neighbours as important new markets for Alberta oil. It's a point he has emphasized since the Obama administration turned down the $7-billion Keystone XL pipeline project that would have transported oilsands crude to refineries on the U.S. Gulf coast.

The Conservative government has also made clear it wants to see approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline to the British Columbia coast in order to ship oilsands products to Asia.

The issue surfaced on the weekend in the U.S. Republican primaries when GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich denounced a possible Canada-China energy partnership as "truly a danger" to American interests.

China, however, views such a partnership "as a shining example of (a) win-win scenario even among states of different social systems and stages of development," said Zhang.

Zhang said Sino-Canadian relations are enjoying a period of "strong momentum," but he made a thinly-veiled request that Harper not fall back into making critical and provocative statements about China's human rights shortcomings.

Soon after winning power in 2006, Harper upset the Canadian business community and Beijing's communist leaders by stating that human rights concerns would not be sold "out to the almighty dollar." It sent bilateral relations into a three-year decline. They were not reset until late 2009 with Harper's first visit to the People's Republic.

Harper may have toned down any perceived anti-China sentiment, but Foreign Minister John Baird renewed his criticism of China's crackdown on religious freedom in a speech Monday in London.

"In China, we see Roman Catholic priests, Christian clergy and their laity, worshipping outside of state-sanctioned boundaries, who are continually subject to raids, arrests, and detention," Baird said in a prepared text.

"We see Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetan Buddhists, and Uyghur Muslims face harassment, and physical intimidation. These abhorrent acts fly in the face of our core principals, our core values."

Zhang's missive states that it is "only natural" to have differing views on certain issues because "Canada and China are different in terms of history, culture, social system and stage of development .... Instead of being barriers, these differences should be drivers for deeper understanding."

The ambassador revealed that Harper also plans to bring a large group of business people on the six-day visit, fuelling Chinese optimism that several memorandums of understanding will be signed that will give investors in both countries a more "stable and predictable policy framework."

The addition of business leaders suggests Harper's return visit to China is taking on the hallmarks of the former Liberal government's Team Canada excursions that ex-prime minister Jean Chretien pioneered.

Zhang also emphasized what analysts consistently stress about building relations with China — that it is best accomplished through face-to-face meetings between the countries' leaders. Chretien, for instance, made six trips to China during his 10 years as prime minister.

As soon as Harper arrived in Beijing in 2009 he was publicly chided by his hosts for waiting three years to visit after coming to power.

In June 2010, Harper hosted Chinese President Hu Jintao in Ottawa. Zhang said the "frequent high-level contacts between leaders of the two countries" have been good for relations, as will Harper's upcoming visit.

"Firstly, the visit will further deepen the mutual trust. Close contacts between leaders of two countries have become a feature of the recent China-Canada relations," said Zhang.

"The growing political mutual trust between the two sides is the bedrock and an important driver for the healthy and stable development of China-Canada relations."

Canada has "featured advantages" in several industrial sectors, he noted, including high-tech, environmental protection, clean energy, information technology, aerospace, aviation and the bio-pharmaceutical industry. China hopes to build on a framework it established last year with Canada in these fields.

"China is more than ready to learn from Canada, to introduce more Canadian advanced technology into China and to launch joint science research with Canada," he said.

Harper gave additional public weight to his return visit to China by announcing it with Zhang at his side during a photo-op at his Ottawa office earlier this month.

As Harper's Feb. 6 departure date approaches, the prime minister will undoubtedly face pressure from interest groups to raise human rights issues on his trip.

Next week, Zhang is to give a luncheon address to the influential Canada-China Business Council on the "the next step" in bilateral relations.

Harper, meanwhile, is off to the international economic thinkfest in Davos, Switzerland, this week, where he will reiterate Canada's desire to diversify its trade, especially its oil exports, said his spokesman Andrew MacDougall.

"It's important to us now that a road has been blocked in the States," MacDougall told reporters, referring to the recent Keystone XL pipeline decision.

MacDougall did not mention China specifically, but said Harper is eyeing emerging markets in particular.

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