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The prime minister joined Gordon Hogg in South Surrey-White Rock, a riding the party hopes to take away from the Conservatives. The seat became vacant when former Tory MP Dianne Watts resigned to run for the leadership of the provincial Liberals.
He will meet on Monday with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and on Tuesday with President Xi Jinping. Xi will also play host to the prime minister at a state dinner that night before Trudeau heads to Guangzhou in southern China, where he’ll deliver the keynote address at the annual Fortune Global Forum.
That’s the itinerary. But outside of the details of where he’s going, and who he’ll meet, Canadian officials have been mum on what to expect out of this trip, even though many in the business and diplomatic community believe the goal is to announce the beginning of formal negotiations with China for a free trade deal.
Guy Saint-Jacques, who served as Canada’s ambassador to China until 2016, says the time is ripe to start negotiations after four rounds of exploratory talks and extensive consultations with Canadian businesses.
“I think the Chinese were a bit surprised at the outset at what we were seeking, because they had said ‘We will give you what we gave Australia and that would be good for you,'” Saint-Jacques said in an interview with CBC News. “But we said we have a lot more to offer in terms of high technology. And if I look at the needs of China, they are desperate to clean their environment and they would have that access.”
Stewart Beck, the president of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, agrees.
Saint-Jacques says the Chinese have bigger stakes in mind, and are pushing hard to begin negotiations with Canada to signal that the world’s second-largest economy is willing to engage with Western economies, especially now that U.S. President Donald Trump seems more concerned with protectionist policies.
There are considerable risks should Canada proceed. Topping the list is the country’s human rights record, which includes jailing Canadian winery owner John Chang over a customs dispute and the continued imprisonment of Huseyin Celil, a Uighur dissident China accuses of being a terrorist.
Former prime minister Jean Chrétien used to argue that it was always better to engage countries like China on multiple levels than to lecture them from the sidelines. Stephen Harper was less convinced, though his initial wariness toward China eased while he was in office.
Trudeau is following Chrétien’s lead with this trip to China, his second since becoming prime minister in 2015.
Saint-Jacques says Canada-China relations now include regular visits, and the creation of regular meetings involving key officials in both countries to discuss issues such as trade, the environment and security.
“We now have in place the infrastructure for regular dialogue at the level of the prime ministers, between foreign ministers and another dialogue on the national security and rule-of-law questions that allows us to discuss sensitive consular cases and sensitive security issues.”
Beck believes the timing is right now to begin formal talks.
“Let’s keep in mind that New Zealand and Australia have had deals for quite a while now. And in some ways it gives them a competitive advantage, particularly Australia where we compete directly in a number of products,” he said.
“Certainly they have benefitted from having that agreement with China.”