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SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Canada is making up lost ground in its political and trade ties with Asia after emerging relatively healthily from the global economic downturn, the country's governor general said on Monday.
David Johnston, head of state when Britain's Queen Elizabeth is not in the country, said Canada's skill as a middle-sized diplomatic power would now boost its prominence in Asian forums after being criticized for lack of engagement, particularly by China.
"Yes, I would say that looking over quite a lengthy period of time, we would have been wiser to be more active in Asia," Johnston said in an interview during a visit to Singapore.
"That said, I think there is a pretty clear understanding in Canada today that China is rising, that Asia is rising very quickly...I think there have been over 30 ministerial visits in the past two or three years. And I think that is an indication of things to come."
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was chided in 2009 by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who said he should have visited Beijing sooner than nearly four years into his term in office.
Johnston also visited Vietnam and Malaysia during an Asian tour that overlapped with a tour of the region by U.S. President Barack Obama. He said he hoped Canada would soon be able to take part in Asian forums like the East Asian summit attended by Obama last week on the Indonesian island of Bali.
And Johnston said Harper would have more freedom for maneuver with the parliamentary majority he secured in a May election after five years of minority government.
"If you look at our history, we have over time played above our weight. And I would expect especially with a majority government there will be a longer view with respect to those international involvements," he said.
"I think also there is a confidence in Canada that has come out of the recent financial crisis that permits us to realize that we have an important contribution to make.
"That's important recognition of Canada's expertise in the overall financial regulation area....Impressive by any measure. The banks managed through the crisis without any significant difficulty, without the requirement of intervention."
Canada emerged from the economic crisis in better shape than most of its trading partners and by January had recovered all the jobs lost in the recession.
However important it was to maintain close commercial ties with the United States, by far Canada's biggest trading partner, Johnston said diversification was also essential.
"I think it's clearly in Canada's interests to diversify our economic output and to continue, of course, to have healthy trade with the United States," he said.
"It's come down from about 85 percent of our trade to the low 70s," he said, referring to the proportion of trade with Washington. "I would expect this to continue to occur. It's a very healthy thing."
Chinese statistics put 2010 bilateral trade at $37.1 billion, a year-on-year increase of 24.8 percent. Figures from Vietnam put trade last year at an all-time high of $1.4 billion.
Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan