Canada's Harper, in China, under pressure from all sides

Thu Nov 6, 2014 5:10pm EST
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By Andrea Hopkins

HANGZHOU China (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrived in China on Thursday, facing the delicate task of improving economic ties with a major trading partner without sparking voter backlash or a revolt within his own party a year ahead of an election.

Dogged by low approval ratings, a cabinet divided on China policy and popular opposition to closer ties with the Asian giant, Harper needs notable victories, such as the release of a detained Canadian couple, to be able to count the trip a success.

Whether he can achieve those ends depends on Beijing, which is unhappy about Canadian accusations of cyber hacking and what it considers a less-than-welcoming investment approach.

The stakes are high for Harper, who last went to China in February 2012 and ended a successful visit by promising Ottawa would do all it could to meet the Chinese appetite for oil.

Little has gone right since then, and he is now under pressure from the business community to boost ties with the superpower to help a struggling Canadian economy.

"China represents tremendous opportunities for Canada," Harper said last week, adding he wanted to help business "truly take advantage of China's large, diverse and dynamic economy".

Canadian officials see China as an obvious source of much of the C$650 billion ($570 billion) of investment they say is needed to develop Canada's resource sector over the next decade.

But pleasing corporate leaders and business groups risks alienating those voters who view China with suspicion and Chinese foreign investment with hostility.   Continued...

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen wave while boarding a Royal Canadian Air Force plane before departing for China, in Ottawa November 5, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Wattie