Canada PM on ground-breaking China tour

BEIJING: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper today visited China’s Expo 2010 site in Shanghai at the close of a tour in which he has defended a more conciliatory approach towards Beijing.

Before visiting the site of next year’s world fair, Harper told business people in Shanghai yesterday that deepening economic ties with China did not involve sacrificing democratic values.

“Our government believes, and has always believed, that a mutually beneficial economic relationship is not incompatible with a good and frank dialogue on fundamental values like freedom, human rights and the rule of law,” Harper said. Earlier in his trip, after meeting President Hu Jintao, Harper hailed what he called a “significant new era” in relations with China.

Reflecting strains over human rights and espionage claims, Harper’s visit was the first to China by a Canadian leader in five years, a point noted by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who described the interval as “too long.” Yesterday, Harper welcomed a decision by Beijing to grant Canada special approved status, making it easier for Chinese tourists to visit the country. This could prove a boon ahead of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in February.

The Chinese measure “could generate up to a 50 per cent boost in tourism and that is especially timely,” Harper said. “As Canada prepares to welcome the world to Vancouver for the Winter Olympic Games, this new designation will encourage more Chinese tourists to discover all Canada has to offer.” Harper was due later in Hong Kong on the last leg of his China tour, which closes on Sunday.