TORONTO - Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne will be going on a trade mission to China later this month, an announcement that comes amid pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that the Chinese government has declared illegal.
Wynne will travel on her first international trade mission as premier to Nanjing and Shanghai, then will head to Beijing, where she will join the premiers of Quebec and Prince Edward Island for a Council of the Federation mission.
The premier said she met with the consul general for China on Tuesday and expressed Ontario's support for freedom of speech, and will deliver that message in China as well.
"I support, we support the ability of people in whatever country they reside to be able to express freely their opinions in a peaceful environment and we certainly follow the lead of and work with the federal government in terms of those relationships, but our commitment to supporting people to express themselves freely in a peaceful setting, that is absolutely firm,'' Wynne said.
"I would say that anywhere.''
The protests in Hong Kong were sparked when Beijing rejected a proposal for open nominations of candidates for Hong Kong's first-ever leadership election in 2017, meaning all candidates will continue to be picked by a panel that is mostly aligned with Beijing.
Student leaders of the protests have warned that if the territory's top official doesn't resign by Thursday they will step up their actions, including occupying several important government buildings.
Chinese state media indicated that the central government may be losing patience with the protests, and urged support for decisive action to end them. The demonstrations pose the stiffest challenge to Beijing's authority since China took control of the former British colony in 1997.
The Ontario mission to China, which is the province's second-largest trading partner, will involve about 60 businesses and organizations in the clean tech and science and technology sectors.
"This mission builds on Ontario's global trade strategy to help businesses, especially small- to medium-size enterprises to tap into new markets,'' Wynne said. "What we know is often small businesses don't have the access and don't have the ability to tap into larger markets, so a trade mission like this can actually make those kinds of connections."
Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid and Citizenship, Immigration and International Trade Minister Michael Chan will join Wynne on the week-long mission leaving Oct. 25.
Wynne's predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, led four trade missions to China during his 10 years as premier.
New Democrat Catherine Fife said Wednesday that her party hopes China will find a peaceful resolution "on the path to democracy in Hong Kong.''
"It's a month before the premier's trip to China and a lot can happen during that time,'' she said. "However, it's important to note that Beijing made a commitment to the people of Hong Kong to universal suffrage. New Democrats believe that peaceful recognition of democratic rights is the best way to safeguard future prosperity."
Monte McNaughton, the Progressive Conservative critic for citizenship, immigration and international trade, said the premier needs to use "bold" language.
"The one concern that I have is about the message the premier's visit is sending and I urge her to closely monitor the situation in Hong Kong,'' he said. "I believe that open democracies lead to stronger economies and better trade relationships.''
- with files from The Associated Press
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