Take Stock – November 30

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has waited four years to make what many believe will be his most important foreign visit, and it couldn’t come at a more disadvantageous time.

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PM’s visit

Too late?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has waited four years to make what many believe will be his most important foreign visit, and it couldn’t come at a more disadvantageous time. Harper’s visit this week to the world’s next superpower comes at a time when Canada needs China more than at any other time, and when the high-ground on human rights has been lowered somewhat by the Afghan prison abuse revelations.

To many China watchers, Harper’s cold shoulder to date has been inexplicable given how important the emerging market of 1.3 billion people is becoming to Canada’s resource-based economy. But former Conservative trade minister David Emerson, who has been urging closer engagement since joining Harper’s government in early 2006, says many of his former colleagues needed to work through their dislike of the communist regime first. “There were many Conservatives who had views on China and the nature of government and treatment of people and human rights and I think there had to be a period of time when the government would come to grips with some of the issues,” he said in an interview.

“I think the Conservative members are (now) understanding that you don’t have to give up your fundamental beliefs to pursue an engagement that is necessary for the country.” The antipathy dates back to when the party was in opposition and critical of what many hard-right MPs perceived as Liberal Jean Chretien’s over-eagerness to curry trade favours from the Reds. Many think Harper himself went out of his way to poke the giant. He did not attend the 2006 Olympics in Beijing when even U.S. President George W. Bush found time, and angered the Chinese with his open and unprecedented embrace of the Dalai Lama.

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