02/03/2012 03:42 EST | Updated 04/04/2012 05:12 EDT

Harper China Trip: Is Canada's Hard Line On Human Rights Softening With Increased Trade

AFP/Getty Images

OTTAWA - The prime minister heads to China next week to talk trade and senior officials insist human rights will also be part of the discussion.

But they stop short of echoing concerns raised by their American counterparts that China's human rights record is worsening.

In recent weeks the Chinese government has handed down stiff prison terms to rights campaigners and there has been a violent response to unrest in Tibet.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's spokesman says the government doesn't share the cynical view that Canada's former hard line on human rights in China is softening in the wake of increased trade relations.

Andrew MacDougall says Canada will push forward on both fronts during next week's four-day official visit, during which Harper will meet a variety of political and business leaders.

And the prime minister is expected to return to Canada with a tangible sign of cuddlier relations - two giant pandas on loan from the Chinese government.

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