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Justin Trudeau

China, Canada need ‘political trust’ to build stable trade ties, Xi Jinping tells Justin Trudeau

Two countries must respect differences in political systems, Chinese leader quoted as saying by state media

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 December, 2017, 10:11pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 December, 2017, 11:26pm

China and Canada should seek to build “political mutual trust” Chinese President Xi Jinping told visiting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Beijing on Tuesday, describing it as the foundation for stable bilateral ties, according to state media.

The countries’ efforts to boost trade links have been overshadowed by political differences on issues such as human rights, but Xi was quoted by state broadcaster CCTV as saying that China’s development path must be decided by the Chinese people, and that the two sides should respect each other’s political systems.

Neither side has announced plans for formal talks on a bilateral free-trade deal, despite hopes being high that such an agreement might be reached during Trudeau’s second visit to China amid the uncertainty over Canada’s renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States.

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Such a deal would also represent a win for China as it would be its first with a G7 country. The Asian giant is keen to promote itself as the new champion of free trade and globalisation amid the US’ increasingly protectionist stance, and despite the fact that Beijing has been frequently criticised by foreign businesses over a lack of market access.

Following his meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Monday, Trudeau said that “any possible trade deal with China will need to reflect the values and priorities of Canadians” in the areas of labour rights, environmental protection and gender equality. That approach runs against China’s inclination to keep such issues separate and avoid links to human rights or civil liberties.

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On Tuesday, Trudeau reaffirmed Canada’s approach of seeking a durable agreement, despite the lengthy time frame demanded.

“For the past two years, we’ve been working on deepening our trade ties, our opportunities for small businesses, for Canadians to benefit from better access to the Chinese market while standing up for our interests and jobs back home,” he said.

“We are going to work very hard, very responsibly to make sure that as we move forward, we move forward in the right way. Once we get to the stage of negotiating a trade agreement, that’s going to take years as well.”

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Discussions also touched on human rights, regional and global political issues and the growing role China is playing on the international stage, he said.

On Monday, Li and Trudeau released a joint statement on climate change and clean energy, which the Canadian leader described as the foundation for closer cooperation between the two countries, including a plan for regular meetings on the issues.

A statement released by the prime minister’s office in Ottawa said Trudeau and Li also discussed several regional issues, including North Korea and Myanmar, but it did not elaborate.

Hugh Stephens, a former Canadian diplomat and now a distinguished fellow at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, said that “respect for human rights has always been a cardinal principle of Canadian foreign policy” and that such thinking was reflected in what Trudeau branded a “progressive” trade agenda that emphasised human rights, gender equality and the environmental impact of trade practices.

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Yves Tiberghien, director emeritus at the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia, said that Canada understood the need to broaden its trade ties after coming under pressure from the United States during the Nafta negotiations.

But while the Canadian people see the opportunities that would come from cooperating with China, they also worry about its political system, lack of transparency and uneven playing field, he said.

Additional reporting by Associated Press and Kristin Huang