Chinese President Hu Jintao (R) shakes hands with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper before their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing February 9, 2012. (REUTERS files/Diego Azubel/Pool)
MANILA – As China prepares for its once-a-decade change of leaders, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Saturday he expects that rising standards of living among that country's citizens will create new pressures for more political freedom.
“Part of our relationship with China, as with the entire world, involves the promotion of our basic values -- freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” Harper said at a news conference here. “And I do believe that as the prosperity grows in countries pressures and expectations of those matters among the population inevitably increases.”
Harper will be in China Sunday, marking Remembrance Day at the Hong Kong cemetery that holds those Canadians killed defending the former British colony from invading Japanese during the Second World War.
And while Harper is in Hong Kong, thousands of Chinese Communists will be meeting in Beijing at the 18th National Party. There, they’ll confirm that Xi Jinping will succeed Hu Jintao as president of the country. And while Xi is seen as a bit more liberal than Hu, it’s expected the ruling Politburo Standing Committee that runs the country will be stacked with conservative hard-liners who will prevent Xi from bring in many reforms.
Partly for that reason, Harper said he’s not holding his breath waiting for quick changes.
“I think it’s, at this point, difficult to speculate on what the next generation of leadership means in terms of change generally or for Canada. I would say at this point that our assessment is probably it’s more continuity than change,” Harper said.
Harper has met Hu several times in the last few years, most recently in Vladivostok, Russia this fall at summit of Pacific nation leaders. Harper has never met Xi who is currently China’s vice-president.
The Harper government is currently wrestling with the nature of the China-Canada relationship.
Harper was in Beijing earlier this year and, while there, made a strong pitch for more Chinese investment and trade in Canada.
That pitch was so well-received that the Communist-controlled newspaper, the China Daily, put Harper on the front page two days in a row as a sign they approved of his message.
But when China’s state-owned oil company CNOOC showed with a $15-billion cheque ready to buy Calgary oil-and-gas produer Nexen, the Harper government balked.
It’s reviewing that takeover proposal and is expected to make a decision next month along with some new rules on foreign investment by state-owned firms like CNOOC.