MONTREAL — Calling for a "new golden decade" in China-Canada relations, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said Friday he wants to return to the days when his country had better relations with Canada than it did most other western countries.
Trade between the two nations should more than double over the next ten years, Li told the several hundred gathered in Montreal for a luncheon hosted by the Canada China Business Council.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, sporting a Montreal Canadiens jersey, waves from centre ice at the Bell Centre on Sept. 23, 2016. (Photo: Ryan Remiorz/CP)
With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the audience, Li brought up the memory of the Canadian communist recognized as a hero in China, surgeon Norman Bethune, to illustrate the strong history between the two nations.
Bethune, born in Ontario in 1890, is credited with bringing modern medicine to China during the 1930s war with Japan and was written about famously by Mao Zedong.
"In the most difficult time for China, Dr. Bethune gave selfless support to the Chinese people," Li said.
Li also recognized Canada's wheat sales to the country while it was recovering from a famine in the 1960s.
"Canada took the lead in breaking the trade embargo against China," he said.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang stick handles the puck away from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as they sport Montreal Canadiens jerseys on Sept. 23, 2016 in Montreal. (Photo: Paul Chiasson/CP)
The Chinese premier told the audience "let's move towards the days when Canada-China relations were much better than with many other western countries."
He later called for "a new golden decade" between the two countries.
Former Quebec premier Jean Charest, who was in attendance, told reporters that he's "stunned" by how quickly Canada and China are taking steps to improve relations.
Li's three-day visit to Canada comes just weeks after Trudeau made a trip to China last month.
Trump hammered China on campaign trail
On Thursday in Ottawa, Trudeau said the countries are launching exploratory talks towards a free trade agreement.
Charest said he thinks the Chinese are interested in developing a relationship with Canada because of what's going on south of the border.
U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump has repeatedly called out China during the campaign, saying it devalues its currency and is "ripping off" the Americans with "bad trade deals."
Hillary Clinton is reportedly not well-liked in China due to her comments on human rights in the country and for pushing a strong line on the South China Sea dispute at international meetings.
"What's obvious to all of us, as we see the American campaign unfold, is that China is an issue," Charest said. "Whomever is elected in the U.S., it's probably safe to assume the relationship with China is going to be tougher the day after the election than it is now."
Li said China is serious about strengthening the country's rule of law as well as intellectual property protection and welcoming more Canadian investment.
On a lighter note, the Chinese premier also praised the Montreal Canadiens hockey team, of which he said he is a big fan.
Earlier Friday, Li attended an event with Canadiens alumni and young hockey players at the Bell Centre, receiving a jersey from the team.
He said he noticed a slogan that read "No Excuses."
"Indeed, we have no excuses," Li said. "China and Canada must have win-win co-operation."