China's president moves ahead with Canadian business ties despite human rights differences

Chinese President Hu Jintao began meeting with senior trade officials and business leaders in Canada's financial capital Saturday after a withering news conference with Prime Minister Paul Martin over the Asian giant's dismal human rights record.

On the third day of Hu's first state visit to North America, the Chinese leader was to attend a lunch in Toronto hosted by International Trade Minister Jim Peterson and other key federal officials. He was also scheduled to address a banquet given in his honor by the Canada Chinese Business Council.

Hu Jintao was peppered with questions by Western journalists about human rights and industrial espionage at a news conference with Martin on Friday. Outside, hundreds of pro-democracy activists and Falun Gong practitioners demonstrated on the lawns of Parliament Hill in the federal capital of Ottawa.

Hu was forced to spend nearly an hour defending China's human rights policies, particularly those regarding the jailing and persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, pro-democracy activists, Christians and Tibetans.

"China is a country of 1.3 billion people," Hu said. "We have to give top priority to the rights to survival and the right to the development of our people. At the same we also attach a great deal of importance to the civil rights of our citizens."

Martin annoyed Beijing when he met with the Dalai Lama in Ottawa last year.

Hu said Tibetan independence was a nonstarter, reaffirming China's territorial sovereignty over the province for centuries, and took a nasty swipe at Tibet's exiled spiritual leader.

"We hope that the Dalai Lama will come to the right judgment of the situation, reverse his position (on independence) and really do something useful and beneficial for the country and for his ethnic group in his lifetime," Hu said.

Hu also dismissed a question about some well-documented cases of Chinese industrial spying in Canada: "Actually, this is a nonexistent question."

Martin, who had pledged that trade and investment would not trump human rights during their talks, said the two had frank discussions about Tibet, the Falun Gong, and the plight of the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan exiles.

Hu's predecessor, Jiang Zemin outlawed the form of spiritual meditation practiced by Falun Gong and thousands of its members have been jailed as members of an "evil cult."

Still, Martin made clear that despite their wide differences over human rights, Canada and China would always be open for business.

"Investment is a two-way street and all countries seek to maximize the domestic benefits of foreign investment," he said. "China does, and so does Canada."

China is Canada's second-largest trading partner, after the United States, and Ottawa and Beijing expect to do some US$15.5 billion (Ђ12.5 billion) in bilateral trade by the end of this year, Hu said, adding they intended to double that to US$30 billion (Ђ24 billion) by 2010.

Canadian officials put 2004's two-way trade at about US$25 billion (Ђ20.1 billion).

Hu noted that despite the big numbers, Canada-China trade only makes up a small portion of each country's trade. Last year, he said, trade with Canada accounted for just 1.3 percent of China's total trade; Chinese trade made up 2.6 percent of Canada's total exports and imports.

"This shows there is great potential for further expansion of economic cooperation and trade between the two countries," Hu said.

With more than 1 million ethnic Chinese in Canada, they are the largest visible minority among Canada's 33 million people. And with the fastest growing economy in the world and the rapid urbanization of their homeland, the Chinese are hungry for more oil and natural resources _ which Canada can provide, in abundance.

Hu's trip comes the same week he postponed a visit to the United States after U.S. President George W. Bush canceled a meeting with the Chinese leader, citing Hurricane Katrina. The two presidents intend to meet on the sidelines of a U.N. meeting next week in New York.

Hu intends to make a private visit to Niagara Falls later Saturday, then heads to Mexico on Sunday. He then will travel to the U.N. summit in New York and on Friday go to Vancouver to start two days of meetings before heading home, AP reported.

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