07/12/2011 10:50 EDT | Updated 09/11/2011 05:12 EDT

John Baird To Make First Trip To China As Foreign Affairs Minister


THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA - John Baird will make his first trip to China this weekend as foreign affairs minister, continuing the Conservative government's efforts to improve its sometimes awkward relations with Beijing.

Only two weeks ago, Baird declared to a business audience in Toronto that visiting China was a "huge priority."

While he emphasized that his government would continue to push for better human rights in China, he also struck a decidedly pro-trade tone.

"China is incredibly important to our future prosperity," he said. "My government gets it, and as Canada's new minister of foreign affairs, I get it."

Baird will be in China from July 16-20. He'll also be preparing the ground for a second trip to the country by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Harper's last trip to China had its bumps. He was chided by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in 2009 for taking so long to visit, and one Chinese newspaper accused Harper of giving the country the "cold shoulder."

When Harper first came to power in 2006, he publicly declared about China that Canadians didn't want him to sell out their values for the "almighty dollar." The Tories also speculated about Chinese corporate espionage, and spearhead a bill in Parliament that ultimately bestowed Canadian citizenship on the Dalai Lama.

The frosty relations didn't sit well with Canada's business community,which warned that from an economic standpoint it was ill-advised to alienate China.

Since then, Harper's cabinet has made frequent trips to China to try to put the relationship back on a more positive footing.

Chinese President Hu Jintao also made an official trip to Canada last June before the G-8 and G-20 summits.

Baird will attend a meeting of the ASEAN regional security forum on the Indonesian island of Bali following the China trip.