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Trudeau suggests to China: Improve your image by tightening ties with Canada

China Entrepreneur Club chairman Jack Ma (right) shares a laugh with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a question and answer session in Beijing, China, Tuesday, August 30, 2016.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
August 30, 2016 - 6:30 PM

BEIJING - Justin Trudeau delivered a message to powerful business leaders in Beijing on Tuesday, shortly after his plane touched down: China needs a little more Canada.

The prime minister tried to sell China on the idea that strengthening its connection to Canada would ease international concerns about the stunning rise of the economic superpower.

Trudeau made the pitch during the first event of his week-long visit to China, where he aims to improve Canada's gloomy growth prospects by deepening business ties with the rapidly growing Asian country.

"Around the world there is anxiety around trade, there is anxiety around China," Trudeau told a question-and-answer session at the China Entrepreneur Club.

He said Canada is in a "position to help China position itself in a very positive way on the world stage."

Trudeau argued it's because Canada is more open to trade than many countries right now and because of its "deep friendship" with China that goes back generations.

Canada, Trudeau added, can help China when it comes to governance and rule-of-law issues as well as global fears about the "tremendous appetite" of Chinese entrepreneurs and companies as they seek out foreign investments and partnerships.

"This isn't always well received by populations and governments around the world," he said.

"China should be — and is — confident and successful enough to know that it should be able to ask for advice and take suggestions about how to be better for its citizens, better to build a greater future."

He only mentioned human rights once during an event that lasted longer than an hour.

During a news conference Tuesday in Ottawa, a coalition of advocacy groups including Amnesty International urged Trudeau not to squander the chance to encourage China to take meaningful steps on human rights.

, said previous governments failed in attempts to scold China over its human rights record.

"This is an issue that governments over the years have never got right," said Alex Neve, director of Amnesty International Canada.

"And our hope (is) that this may mark a turning point when that can change."

Still, Neve said activists are not opposed to deepening trade ties with China.

"Our message to the prime minister is not, 'Don't pursue trade'; our message is, 'Pursue trade in a way that is entirely grounded in human rights.'"

Since last year's election win, Trudeau's Liberal government has indeed taken a cautious approach to China amid public concerns in Canada over the country's long-standing history of human-rights abuses.

But this trip could move things forward.

Tuesday's event was moderated by Jack Ma, founder of the Alibaba e-commerce giant.

In his closing remarks, Ma predicted the Canadian-Chinese bond would grow stronger.

"We should be open to the world and open to the future," Ma said.

Later Tuesday, Trudeau was expected to continue pursuing what he described as a "renewed relationship" at a dinner hosted by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

He is scheduled to meet Li, the country's second-in-command, again on Wednesday as well as President Xi Jinping.

In response to a question, Trudeau also said Canada is looking "very favourably" at the possibility of joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. On Wednesday in Beijing, Finance Minister Bill Morneau will meet with the investment bank's president Jin Liqun.

Later Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Trudeau elaborated on his remarks.

"Investments in infrastructure can contribute to long-term growth and help ensure a better quality of life for the middle class — it's a belief that applies at home and abroad," Andree-Lyne Halle wrote in an email.

"As we carefully consider joining the (bank), we look at the impact these investments would have on global economic growth and the potential for Canadian companies to explore new commercial opportunities."

Last spring, the Chinese-led bank announced its 57 intended charter members.

The United States has expressed concern the bank will allow looser lending standards for the environment, labour rights and financial transparency. It could undercut the World Bank, where the U.S. has the most clout, and the Asian Development Bank, where the Americans are the second-largest shareholder after Japan.

Trudeau travelled to China for his first official visit with wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and seven-year-old daughter Ella-Grace.

Later in the trip, he will attend the G20 leaders' summit in Hangzhou. He will also visit Shanghai and Hong Kong.

The prime minister is joined on the visit by Morneau, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion and International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Their main goal is to open the doors to China a little wider.

"Any economic strategy that ignores China, or that treats that valuable relationship as anything less than critically important, is not just short-sighted, it's irresponsible," Trudeau said.

"We know that a stronger and deeper relationship with China is essential if we are to achieve our own objectives — to create Canadian jobs, to strengthen the middle class and to grow the Canadian economy."

Follow @AndyBlatchford on Twitter

— With files from Terry Pedwell in Ottawa and The Associated Press

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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