by Zhang Dacheng, Shi Li
OTTAWA, Feb. 5 (Xinhua) -- Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he expects to enhance the China-Canada strategic partnership during his visit to China next week, the second since he took office in 2006.
In a written interview with Xinhua, Harper said Friday that he greatly enjoyed his first visit to China, which took him to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong in December 2009 and led to a return visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao in June 2010.
IMPORTANT SECOND VISIT TO CHINA
"I am looking forward to my second visit to China, as is my wife Laureen," Harper said.
Demonstrating the importance of his second visit, which will take him to Beijing, Guangzhou and Chongqing from Feb. 7 to 11, Harper is bringing a large delegation of cabinet ministers and lawmakers, including Foreign Minister John Baird, International Trade Minister Ed Fast, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and Minister of State for Seniors Alice Wong.
Also traveling with him will be MPs Wai Young, Chungsen Leung, Costas Menegakis, John Carmichael, Michael Chong, and Daryl Kramp, as well as a large business delegation with representatives from the energy, transport, education and many other sectors.
"As you know, our country is looking for new markets for our goods and services and China and the entire Asia-Pacific region is an area of tremendous opportunity," Harper said. "We hope to expand on our strategic partnership with China and, in particular, we hope to deepen the economic and trade ties between our two countries."
ACHIEVEMENTS ALREADY MADE
"I am pleased with the progress that we've made in our strategic partnership," Harper said, adding that a key to that success had been the frequent contacts and visits between the two governments, which totaled 24 at leader and ministerial levels on the Canadian side.
"This dialogue and interaction has led to real achievements, particularly on the economic front. The numbers are up, and up significantly, in key areas," Harper said.
On the economic front, the two countries pledged to work together to strengthen economic ties through the Canada-China Economic Partnership Working Group.
Since 2009, Canada has opened six new trade offices in China - Chengdu, Nanjing, Qingdao, Shenyang, Shenzhen and Wuhan.
China has opened a new consulate general in Montreal.
"The opening of these new trade offices in China is a tangible recognition of the importance Canada places on establishing closer relations with emerging centers, in addition to enhancing Canada's ability to support Canadian companies in China," Harper said.
Canada's official statistics show China is Canada's second largest individual trading partner after the United States, and bilateral trade is expanding rapidly.
Since 2005, two-way merchandise trade with China has grown by almost 60 percent, and has held strong throughout the global economic crisis. Between 2005 and 2010, Canadian merchandise exports to China grew by some 83 percent, from 7.2 billion to 13.2 billion Canadian dollars.
In 2010, the bilateral trade volume reached 57.8 billion Canadian dollars, accounting for 7.2 percent of Canada's trade and representing a 13.7 percent increase over 2009.
Foreign direct investment between Canada and China continues to increase dramatically, particularly in the resource and financial services sectors, reaching almost 19 billion Canadian dollars in 2010.
On the people-to-people front, Harper said, China had granted Canada Approved Destination Status (ADS) and the two nations agreed to strengthen cooperation in health, agriculture, crime and the environment.
More than 232,000 Chinese travelers arrived in Canada in the first 11 months of 2011, a 24 percent increase over the same period in 2010. China's Hainan Airlines and Southern Airlines launched direct flights from Beijing to Toronto and from Guangzhou to Vancouver in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
The number of Chinese students in Canada has also grown significantly in recent years, increasing by 35.1 percent between 2006 and 2010. In 2010, there were 61,222 Chinese students in Canada, representing close to 28 percent of the international students and contributing almost 1.9 billion Canadian dollars to the local economy.
While welcoming large numbers of immigrants from China, Canada also deported Lai Changxing and other major crime suspects to China as a result of bilateral anti-crime cooperation.
"All of these are positive signs," Harper said.
Harper also hailed the increasing numbers of visits between Canada and China. "The more contact we have between our people, the deeper the understanding and ties will be between our two countries," Harper said, adding that, with more than a million Canadians of Chinese descent, Chinese culture is well-represented in Canada and Chinese-Canadians have made many great contributions to Canada.
SEEKING NEW MARKETS IN ASIA
Commenting on the economic situations at home and abroad, Harper said Canada remained very concerned about the continuing instability of the global economy.
"The problems afflicting Europe, and for that matter, the United States, are not only challenging today but threaten to be even greater problems in the future," he said.
On the issue of the debt crisis, Harper said, it is important for developed countries to implement their debt and deficit reduction plans agreed to at the G-20 in Toronto.
As for the situation in Canada, he said Canada had economically outperformed most industrialized countries during these recent difficult years for the global economy.
Forbes magazine ranks Canada as the best place on the planet for businesses to grow and create jobs. The OECD and the IMF predict Canada's economy will again be among the leaders of the industrialized world over the next two years. And, for the fourth year in a row, the World Economic Forum says Canada's banks are the soundest in the world.
"These evaluations are the result of sound fundamentals," Harper said. "Among G-7 countries, Canada has the lowest overall tax rate on new business investment. Our net debt-to-GDP ratio remains the lowest in the G-7 and by far."
He acknowledged that his government remains concerned about the number of Canadians who are still out of work, and the government is working on Economic Action Plan 2012, a plan for jobs and growth in Canada.
Harper said, as growth remains slow in Europe and the United States, it would be critical for Canada to reach out to new markets in Asia.
"The Asian economies are growing quickly and represent an important market for Canadian goods and services," he said. "The Asia-Pacific region, of which China is a major part, is of tremendous significance to our government."
FULLY ENGAGED CANADA-CHINA MAKES SENSE
Harper stressed that China would have an important role to play in the global economy as the world looks to create strong, sustainable and balanced global growth through the G-20.
"Growth in China has been remarkable and it is important for the global economy that that growth continues," he said.
The Cannes Action Plan for Jobs and Growth, a plan developed by Canada, was endorsed by G-20 Leaders in November. Harper said that, since Cannes, there had been a modest appreciation in the Chinese currency against the U.S. dollar, adding that it was important for the credibility of China's policymakers and the G-20 that China followed through on its commitments.
"To be sure, China is not the only country that must adjust. Developed economies will have to make important changes too," he said. "For example, we must set out clear plans to reduce our fiscal deficits and fully implement the financial sector reforms that we agreed to at the 2009 G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh. Countries must also continue to resist protectionism and leaders must be strong in their calls for free and open trade."
Harper stressed that, like China, Canada is also a Pacific nation with a growing economy and strong potential, so it makes sense for China and Canada to be fully engaged with each other.
"The upcoming visit to China represents an excellent opportunity to strengthen the economic and trade ties between our two countries. As I said, I look forward to making progress," he said.