y Randall Palmer Fri Feb 9, 5:58 PM ET
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned Beijing on Friday against trying to use trade as a lever to deflect criticism of its human rights record, including its treatment of a Canadian imprisoned in China.
He gave a blunt response to remarks by a Chinese official, published on Friday, that the two countries need to trust each other for their economic relationship to flourish.
"I would point out today to any Chinese official just as a matter of fact that China has a huge trade surplus with this country," Harper told reporters in the Atlantic port of Halifax.
"So I think it would be in the interest of the Chinese government to be sure that any dealings with Canada on trade are absolutely fair and above board."
Harper has for months sparred verbally with China over the case of Huseyincan Celil, a citizen of both countries and a Muslim imam whom China charges with terrorism.
The Chinese official in question is the assistant minister of foreign affairs for North America, He Yafei, who told Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper that Canada's trade and political relationships were falling behind.
"The economic relationship goes hand in hand with the political relationship," He Yafei said.
"We need to have a sound political basis of mutual trust for the economic relationship to flourish. That's why we need to work harder to improve mutual trust."
Opposition politicians in Canada have criticized Harper for his direct words over the Celil affair, but Harper told the news conference in Halifax: "Canada's trade with China has lagged for a very long number of years.
"It lagged under governments that were not prepared to speak out about human rights in any way, shape or form."
Jason Kenney, secretary of state for multiculturalism, met He Yafei in Ottawa on Friday afternoon. Kenney told Parliament before the meeting that he would again raise Celil's case.
China has denied Celil access to Canadian diplomats and says they have no right to be present at court hearings. It has refused to tell them when he would appear in court.
Harper was unhappy to learn that Canadian diplomats were not present at a court hearing in Urumqi in northwestern China last Friday, and Kenney said two diplomats have now been dispatched to Urumqi on direct instructions from Harper.