Stephen Harper China Trip: PM Mixes Oil With Human Rights On China Visit

Harper China Oil Human Rights

First Posted: 02/10/2012 6:59 am Updated: 04/11/2012 5:12 am

GUANGZHOU, China - Stephen Harper left the old political world of Beijing for a new industrial capital of China to deliver his strongest words yet on human rights and oil.

But the main criticisms which could be found in the keynote speech of his four-day tour of China weren't about the deteriorating rights situation in the Middle Kingdom.

He instead chastised environmentalists.

Harper's economic pitch to the Chinese was clear: Canada wants to sell its natural resources to people interested in buying, and it's obvious China has a need.

It was a dig at the United States for rejecting TransCanada's planned Keystone XL pipeline and it was a message the Chinese were eager to hear.

Harper has been receiving front-page coverage in local media since arriving in China earlier this week and his speech Friday night drew dozens of local and international reporters, and over 500 Chinese and Canadian business people.

Canada will sell, but won't sell out, Harper insisted.

"Canadians believe, and have always believed, that the kind of mutually beneficial economic relationship we seek is also compatible with a good and frank dialogue on fundamental principles," Harper told the dinner.

"And they demand that their government — and their businesses — uphold these national characteristics in all our dealings."

But while he stressed that Canada would continue to raise human rights issues in its business dealing with China, Harper didn't bring up any specifics during his speech.

In an interview to be broadcast Saturday Harper treaded carefully around the prospect of a free trade deal with China, an idea that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was warming to earlier in the week.

"There will be enormous opportunity in China if we could ever get to that stage, but at the same time not under any illusions that there would be a significant number of economic and other questions that would have to be answered." Harper said in an interview with the CBC Radio show "The House."

But Harper said his government plans to complete a study this Spring into the feasibility of a free trade pact with China.

Harper also told the CBC that trade talks wouldn't be jeopardized by bringing up rights.

"Our trade exists because the Chinese have a real interest in our trade," he said.

"That means we should take advantage of those situations. Obviously we are a guest in this country so we will raise these things respectfully."

Local news outlets reported on Friday that officials in Tibet were told to prepare for war as monks continue to set themselves on fire in protest of the rights crackdown there.

Meanwhile, a Chinese court sentenced a dissident writer to seven years in prison over a poem he wrote urging his countrymen to gather at a public square, a human rights group said.

Three other dissidents have received nine- and 10-year prison terms for subversion or inciting subversion over the last few months.

Harper's umbrage Friday was aimed at environmentalists' opposition to the oilsands, which the Conservative government has said is backed by international money.

"We uphold our responsibility to put the interests of Canadians ahead of foreign money and influence that seek to obstruct development in Canada in favour of energy imported from other, less stable parts of the world," he told the dinner.

Western leaders who've met with Chinese politicians in recent weeks have taken a far more public stand on human rights.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attracted global attention for attempting to have dinner with a high-profile human rights lawyer while in Beijing last week.

Harper came to Guangzhou to deliver his public pronouncement on human rights following a series of high-level meetings in Beijing that led to dozens of new government and business deals between Canada and China.

Both sides have said the relationship has improved markedly since Harper's first visit in 2009, but the Chinese have also sent signals they don't want too much push back on rights issues.

Harper said he can't claim to understand the pressures facing the Chinese as they grapple with an exploding economy.

"Nor do I ignore the undeniable differences of Chinese culture and history," he said.

"However, as Canadians our history has taught us that economic, social and political development are, over time, inseparable."

The southern Chinese city of 30 million where Harper spoke Friday is an industrial hub and governed by one of the more open-minded politicians in China who is expected to be promoted within the political hierarchy this year.

Harper began the day promoting education, visiting a local school that uses a Canadian curriculum to prepare Chinese students for further education.

Around 60,000 Chinese students study in Canada each year, contributing close to $2 billion to the economy.

Loading Slideshow...
  • Here are a few details of the major investment deal coming soon between Canada and China, as well as a list of what CBC chief political correspondent Terry Milewski calls a "small blizzard of incremental agreements," signed in Beijing. <em>With files from CBC</em>. (Diego Azubel-PoolGetty Images)

  • The Big One: FIPA

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the foreign investment promotion and protection agreement (FIPA) between Canada and China the first "comprehensive economic agreement" between the two countries. In fact, what was signed by Harper and Chinese Premier Wen Jaibao in Beijing is not the final deal, but a declaration of intent: Now it must be legally reviewed and ratified by both governments, which for Canada will mean a debate in the House of Commons. Once both countries complete this process, it will need to be formally signed to take effect. This deal will protect Canadians investing in China, as well as Chinese investors in Canada, from "discriminatory and arbitrary practices." Once in place, investors can have more confidence that rules will be enforced and valuable business deals will be subject to predictable legal practices. Harper told reporters in Beijing he "absolutely" expected that it will make a "practical difference." "The agreement does not override existing Canadian law in regard to foreign investment and foreign investment review," Harper said. "Those laws remain in place." Negotiations for this agreement took 18 years, and key players in manufacturing, mining and the financial sectors were consulted to get to this stage. It's not unusual for Canada to have this kind of an agreement with a trading partner. FIPAs are in force with 24 other countries that trade with Canada, and active negotiations are underway with 10 other countries, according to the government's announcement. (Diego Azubel-PoolGetty Images)

  • The 'Blizzard' (By Sector):

    (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova)

  • Agriculture

    - A new protocol, building on a 2010 agreement to restore Canada's market access to the Chinese market for Canadian beef following the 2003 BSE outbreak and resulting border closures, to allow industrial beef tallow (fat) to be imported for the first time in almost a decade. China used to be Canada's top export market for tallow ($31 million in 2002), and now Canada has a shot at a share of the $400 million in tallow China imports from around the world. - A memorandum of understanding (MOU) on canola research, to address a recent fungal disease in canola and rapeseed that threatens Canada's valuable trading relationship with China in canola. - On Tuesday, Chinese aquaculture feed company Tongwei announced it will increase its purchase of Canadian canola by up to $240 million per year by 2015. (DAVID BUSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Natural Resources:

    - A MOU between Natural Resources Canada and the Chinese Academy of Sciences to collaborate on scientific research on sustainable development of natural resources. The government release touts benefits including new technologies for resource firms, carbon emissions reduction strategies, reduced environmental impacts and natural hazards from resource development, and new opportunities for Canadian suppliers of equipment and services. - A MOU spelling out a "framework" for Parks Canada and China's state forestry administration to collaborate and share scientific expertise in the management of national parks, natural reserves and other protected areas. The agreement includes language around ecological restoration, conservation measures for endangered wildlife, wetlands development, and the preservation of forests and wetlands. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/47096398@N08/" target="_hplink">Flickr: eleephotography</a>)

  • Energy

    - A continuation of the MOU, first signed in 2001 and renewed in 2006, on energy co-operation to "engage China on energy issues" through a Canada-China joint working group on energy co-operation, chaired by Natural Resources Canada and China's national energy administration, which is responsible for Chinese energy policy. The working group oversees joint research projects, exchange of expertise, and co-operation between energy companies in both countries, including the promotion of energy efficiency and renewables. It aims to both attract capital investment and improve market access for Canadian energy resources and technology. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Science and Technology

    - Approval of seven projects, valued at $10 million, under the Canada-China framework for co-operation on science and technology and innovation, including: a diagnostic kit for acute kidney injuries, a wind energy seawater desalination system, a waste heat-recovery system to help oil refineries consume less fuel, new solar cells for renewable energy panels, a real-time multi-sensor navigational tracking device for hand-held devices, a blue-green algae bloom warning system and "next generation" large-scale geographic information systems. - Two more calls for proposals, valued at $18 million ($9 million from each country) for joint research under the same framework. These proposals are for the development of "innovations with high commercial potential" in the areas of human vaccines and clean automotive transportation. The Canada-China joint committee on science and technology, made up of individuals from industry, academia and government, sets the priorities and oversees these projects. (To date, 21 projects ranging from nuclear power to AIDS drugs, to clean technologies for pulp and paper have received some $28 million in funding.) (TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Education

    - A renewed MOU extending and modifying the Canada-China scholars' exchange program, which has seen 900 students travel between Canada and China since 1973. New eligibility rules and scholarships will be in place for the next round of competitions in 2012, including eight to 12 Canadian scholarships for Chinese professionals and 20 awards for Canadian university students. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/plutor/" target="_hplink">Flickr: Plutor</a>)

FOLLOW HUFFPOST CANADA POLITICS

Filed by Michael Bolen  |