Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Canadian Finance Minister Begins China Trip Aimed at Boosting Trade, Mending Fences

Canadian Finance Minister in China
Wednesday January 17, 2:12 pm ET
By Alexa Olesen, Associated Press Writer

Canadian Finance Minister Begins China Trip Aimed at Boosting Trade, Mending Fences

BEIJING (AP) -- Canada's finance minister arrived in China to boost trade ties and mend fences amid a series of diplomatic spats with Beijing, but said Wednesday he would also raise human rights concerns during his talks with Chinese officials.


Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said it was his "duty to be frank" about Canada's concerns and said he planned to raise the issue of Huseyin Celil, a Chinese-Canadian being held in a Chinese jail for alleged terrorism links.

China does not recognize his Canadian citizenship and Ottawa has been aggressively lobbying for his release. His family says he is being persecuted because he is a Muslim and a political dissident who fled his homeland in the 1990s.

"We raise issues that we believe are important to Canadians," Flaherty said. "We believe in protecting the rights of Canadians around the world."

"At the same time we believe in growing the economy of Canada," he said. "We are a free trading nation. There is tremendous economic growth in China and there is increasing economic freedom in China and we can build on that relationship."

Flaherty said he planned to continue to press China on loosening its currency controls during meetings with his Chinese counterpart, Jin Renqing, and with the governor of the People's Bank of China, Zhou Xiaochuan.

"We've encouraged China to allow their currency to have more flexibility over time," he said. "They've indicated that they will do that over time. There is some increased flexibility now."

Critics say China's currency, the yuan, is artificially undervalued by as much as 40 percent.

Flaherty was also to meet with China's top insurance regulator, as well as banking and securities regulators and officials from its state planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission.

His seven-day trip to Beijing and Shanghai is part of a push by Ottawa to invigorate economic and trade relations with China since diplomatic ties floundered after the Conservative Party took power last January. Canada's Trade Minister David Emerson is also in Beijing this week.

Canada's campaign to have Celil released has angered Chinese officials, as did Canada's granting of honorary citizenship to the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama.

Conservative Party members of Parliament have also been vocal critics of religious persecution in China, particularly against members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement.

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