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15-11-06, 15:19
China snubs Canada for bilateral meeting at APEC conference in Hanoi
Published: Tuesday, November 14, 2006 | 10:13 PM ET
Canadian Press: JENNIFER DITCHBURN

OTTAWA (CP) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper will not have an official meeting with his Chinese counterpart during this week's Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation conference in Vietnam, in an apparent snub by Beijing over the Conservative government's emphasis on human rights.

The two countries had been trying to negotiate a bilateral meeting to take place prior to the APEC leaders forum between Harper and President Hu Jintao. Chinese officials said Canada had approached them for a meeting in Hanoi, while Canadian officials said it was the other way around.

But by late Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Harper said there would be no meeting.

"China approached us about a meeting. We said Yes. We have since learned that the meeting offer has now been declined," said Sandra Buckler, Harper's director of communications.

"We remain open to meeting with China at any time - at APEC or anywhere else. We would, however, want a substantive agenda on economic and trade relations and consular cases like Celil."

Celil refers to Huseyin Celil, a Chinese-Canadian held in prison by China for alleged terrorism links. China does not recognize his Canadian citizenship, and his family says he is being persecuted because he is a Muslim. The Conservative government has been aggressively lobbying for his release.
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Nobody from the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa was immediately available for comment. A Canadian official said there was still the chance the two leaders could meet in a "pull aside," international forum-speak for an informal chat during the course of the larger conference.

But observers who had been watching the discussion over whether there would be a meeting said the result would provide a significant sign of the state of Canada-China relations. Some, including former ambassador to China Fred Bild, had noted that it was already a sign of Beijing's displeasure that the wavering over the tete-a-tete had gotten out into the media.

Since the Conservatives took power last January, a number of irritants have emerged, including the awarding of honourary Canadian citizenship to Tibet's exiled Dalai Lama, the Celil case, and public accusations by Ottawa of commercial espionage by the Chinese.

And before the Conservatives took power, Tory MPs were among the most vocal critics of religious persecution in China, particularly the treatment of members of the Falun Gong faith.

It has only been in the last month that ministerial outreach has been ramped up with Beijing, including a visit this week by Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn. Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay has been participating in a number of events with embassy officials.

Still, Canadian business leaders have been pressing the Conservative government to reach out to China in order not to hurt future trade ties with the economic powerhouse. At the same time, human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been trying to remind western countries of the continuing abuses in China and the region.

Harper will have bilateral meetings after he arrives for the conference with leaders from Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand and Korea. Officials said last week that he will bring up the issue of religious freedom with the Vietnamese.

http://www.cbc.ca/cp/national/061114/n111491A.html