FEB 08, 2001


The Straits Times, Singapore
Canada to send planeload of tycoons to China

Eager to do business with an emerging China, the Canadian PM will be accompanied by more than 600 corporate and political leaders

By R. Senthilnathan

CANADA is sending a planeload of business tycoons and politicians as part of the team that Prime Minister Jean Chretien will take on his second tour of China starting tomorrow.

China is so important in the business world that more than 600 Canadian corporate leaders and politicians have signed up for the Team Canada mission.

Although Mr Chretien lobbied heavily to be granted the honour of being the first foreign leader to be met by new US President George W. Bush, the nine-day trip to Beijing, Shanghai and Hongkong is considered more important by political and business leaders in Canada.

Mr Chretien, who first visited China in 1994, will be accompanied by most of the premiers of Canada's 13 provinces and territories, other government officials and business leaders from 10 sectors, including agriculture and information technologies.

The Canadian delegation will sign trade agreements and discuss political issues such as the missile shield proposed by the Bush administration, the issue of illegal Chinese immigrants arriving in Canada and China's human-rights record.

The delegates will take part in a grand banquet for about 2,500 people in Beijing's Great Hall of the People next week.

China is Canada's fourth-largest trading partner after the US, Japan and Britain.

But the trade volume of about C$14 billion (S$16.1 billion) in 1999 pales in comparison to Ottawa's trade with the US, which amounts to almost C$365 billion a year.

However, Canadian officials point out that bilateral trade with China has increased more than a hundredfold in 30 years, from just C$160 million in 1970, when diplomatic relations were established with Beijing, to C$14 billion in 1999.

Of the C$14 billion, about $2.5 billion is made through trade with Hongkong, making the city Canada's eighth-largest trading partner.

China is also on the way to becoming the largest trading country in the world, and its leaders are credited with manoeuvring so well that the nation withstood the Asian economic crisis.

'Together with Hongkong, China has emerged as the economic engine of the Asia-Pacific region, with corresponding political influence,' said a Team Canada statement.

As a result, Ottawa has been trying to cultivate good relations with Beijing. Senior Canadian officials make it a point to visit China every year, and the Chinese have reciprocated.

Mr Chretien has generally granted Asia top priority, and the continent has been the target of four of the five Team Canada trips.

However, the Prime Minister's courting of China is not without its critics, who argue that Canada should not put human rights behind trade.

'Trade can assist in opening up relations between societies,' said Mr Irwin Cotler, an MP from Mr Chretien's Liberal Party.

'But if it's only trade, then we end up having trade used as a cover for repression, not as a form of constructive engagement.'

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