Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau starts his first state visit to China on Tuesday.
The trip will take him to Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Hangzhou where he will attend the G20 summit and meet Premier Li Keqiang.
With Canada’s economy expected to have shrunk by 1.5 per cent in the second quarter, Trudeau is seeking to reboot relations and boost economic ties with China, Canada’s second-largest trading partner after the United States.
Ahead of his trip, Trudeau said he had to reset relations with Beijing “a little bit”, and the rise of the China’s middle class presented a tremendous opportunity for Canadian companies.
But his trip is also overshadowed by trade and investment disputes as well as an increasingly negative perception among Canadians about China’s human rights record.
Below is an overview of some of the key issues.
1. What is the state of economic ties between Canada and China?
Merchandise trade between Canada and China amounted to nearly US$85.8 billion last year, a 10.1 per cent increase over 2014, and 8.1 per cent of Canada’s total merchandise trade that year, according to Canadian government statistics.
2. What are the big Chinese investments in Canada?
Chinese buyers are now the largest foreign investors in Canadian commercial real estate. Chinese investors accounted for 65.4 per cent of more than US$2 billion in deals across the country in the first half, according to the Canadian broadcaster CBC. Chinese investments in Canada’s oil and gas sector cooled to US$2.19 billion this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
3. What will Trudeau discuss with Chinese leaders?
Observers say Trudeau will focus on boosting trade ties with China, including discussions about a free-trade agreement, the possibility of Canada joining the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Other issues such as human rights and Chinese visa difficulties for Chinese-Canadians travelling on Canadian passports are also expected to be discussed.
4. What are the main disputes between the two nations?
The two countries have been at odds over Canadian exports of canola oil into China, with Beijing set to impose a stricter rules on shipments from September.
In 2012 under the administration of former prime minister Stephen Harper, Canada introduced rules restricting takeovers in the oil sands industry by state-owned enterprises, after China National Offshore Oil Corp agreed to buy Canada’s Nexen for US$15 billion. Tentative trade talks between China and Canada collapsed after the rules were introduced.
In June, Canada said it expressed “dissatisfaction” to China after Foreign Minister Wang Yi lashed out at a journalist in Ottawa over a question about China’s human rights record.
The journalist, in a joint press conference attended by Wang and his Canadian counterpart Stéphane Dion, asked how Ottawa would use the relationship with Beijing to improve human rights in the region.
Wang said: “I have to say that your question is full of prejudice against China and arrogance … I don’t know where that comes from. This is totally unacceptable.”
The case of Kevin Garratt, who has been detained in China on suspicion of spying, also raised tensions. Trudeau said he would raise Garratt’s case during his visit.
5. How big is Canada’s Chinese community?
Canadians of Chinese descent make up about 4.5 per cent of Canada’s population. Students from China – more than 120,000 last year – are by far the largest group of international students in Canada, according to Canadian government statistics.
6. Who will be part of the Canadian delegation to China?
Trudeau will be joined by Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion, International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, and Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
7. Does Trudeau have a family link with China?
The government of Justin’s father, Pierre Trudeau, recognised the People’s Republic of China in 1970, making Canada one of the first Western countries to have diplomatic ties with Beijing. Pierre Trudeau made his first trip to China in 1949 and returned in 1960 during the Great Leap Forward, interviewing Mao Zedong for Quebec-based political journal Cité Libre. After becoming Canada’s prime minister in 1968, he made formal diplomatic recognition of the PRC a foreign policy priority. Other countries, such as Australia and Germany, moved to recognise Beijing after Canada. Taiwan was a stumbling block for Canada and China during talks for recognition but they ended with Beijing stating its claims over Taiwan, and Canada taking note of Beijing’s position.