China a key target in new foreign policy plan

Canada’s new foreign policy identifies more than a dozen priority countries — China key among them — as Prime Minister Stephen Harper awaits official word from his hosts to visit Beijing, The Canadian Press has learned.

OTTAWA — Canada’s new foreign policy identifies more than a dozen priority countries — China key among them — as Prime Minister Stephen Harper awaits official word from his hosts to visit Beijing, The Canadian Press has learned.

Harper ordered up the so-called Foreign Policy Plan — or FPP — in May when he appointed John Baird as his foreign affairs minister.

Bureaucrats at the Department of Foreign Affairs have completed a draft of the plan and sources say it is now bound for cabinet, as early as this week, for consideration, including its possible tabling in Parliament.

Sources not authorized to speak publicly about the internal government document have briefed The Canadian Press on its main points. They say the document is surprisingly slim and outlines four key priorities: building prosperity, fostering democracy, standing up for human rights, and promoting religious freedom.

The document points out the obvious need to bolster trade with Asia, in particular China, sources say.

Meanwhile, Harper himself has shed new light on his highly-anticipated travel plans for China. He’s ready to go, any time, on short notice; he’s just waiting on the Chinese government to tell him when.

“I’m waiting on a date,” the prime minister said Monday evening during a holiday season reception at his 24 Sussex Drive residence.

Harper noted that Chinese President Hu Jintao has formally invited him to visit, and that any trip would also include a meeting with Premier Wen Jiabao.

The prime minister said he wasn’t sure yet whether his visit would include a meeting with the man who has been named by the Communist Party to succeed Hu: China’s current vice president, Xi Jinping.

Harper met with Hu and Wen in December 2009 when he made his first trip to China.

Harper said that winning a majority in May means the Conservatives can now govern on “one track” without dealing with a second track of planning for a surprise election. That means accommodating Hu when he gives him a date.

Harper stressed Monday that his new majority government is keen to bolster ties with China. He rebuffed a suggestion that Canada was dragging its heels on re-engaging China.

The draft FPP will guide Harper’s top diplomat, Baird, on the way forward with China and many other Asian and Muslim countries that Canada has not paid as close attention to in the past. The FPP hopes to marry two core themes: fostering economic prosperity while promoting democratic values, sources say.

It also lists more than a dozen “priority countries” where Canada should focus. In addition to China, they include: India, Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, Turkey, North Korea and South Africa.

Sources say that as the months of closed-door work on the FPP have unfolded — and a turbulent world continued to turn — other countries have been added. These include Israel and Egypt as well as the countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Sources say the GCC was added to the list because the six-nation club of countries has emerged as a major player across North Africa and the Middle East during the Arab Spring uprisings.

ASEAN has been targeted because the 10-country bloc is seen as an important player now that Harper has said boosting trade with Asia is a top economic priority.