Fri, Sep 09, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Hu heads to North America for visit

LET'S BE FRIENDS The Chinese president will go to Canada, Mexico and the UN Assembly in New York to try to win friends and influence people on Beijing's behalf

AFP , BEIJING AND AP, TORONTO

Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) left here yesterday for state visits to Canada and Mexico before attending the UN General Assembly in New York, state media reported.

He is accompanied by his wife Liu Yongqing, State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan (唐家璇), Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing (李肇星), and State Development and Planning Commission Minister Ma Kai (馬凱).

Hu had been scheduled to visit Washington for a meeting with President George W. Bush but it was cancelled in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Instead, Hu will meet Bush on the sidelines of the UN meeting before returning home on Sept. 17, Xinhua news agency said.

His first stop is Canada where he will hold talks with Canadian Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson, the first Chinese-Canadian to be appointed to the post, and Prime Minister Paul Martin.

They are expected to discuss climate-change, energy, science and technology, investment, trade, tourism and human rights.

China is Canada's second-largest trading partner, after the US, and Ottawa and Beijing conducted some US$30 billion worth of trade last year. With the world's fastest growing economy and rapid urbanization, the Chinese are hungry for more oil and natural resources -- and Canada has those, in abundance.

Washington will be closely watching the visit, which includes meetings with Prime Minister Paul Martin, and government and business leaders in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver. Hu was supposed to meet US President George W. Bush at the White House next week, but postponed the visit after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the US Gulf Coast.

The US relies on Canada for about 17 percent of its oil and energy and is well aware that China is boosting investments in Canadian oil and natural resources. At the same time, Washington and Ottawa, the world's largest trading partners, continue to snipe over lumber tariffs and question each other's long-term defense policies.

"What I worry about is that the United States is making it easy for China; that in one way or another the United States is screwing up in its relationship with Canada," said Richard Bush, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

"And that makes it very easy for Hu Jintao to walk in and say, `Hi, I'm from China and we want to be your friend. And by the way, I want to buy your oil and your minerals and let's not worry about your neighbor next door. We've both got problems with them, so let's talk.' It just makes it easier for [the Chinese] to exert political influence."

When asked whether the scheduled visit by Vice President Dick Cheney -- also postponed due to Katrina -- to an oil sands site in Alberta on the same day Hu is in Ottawa was more than coincidence, Bush chuckled and said: "I don't think we're that good."

Cheney's national energy policy report in 2001 noted the importance of Canada's oil sands to US energy security. But while Americans blocked a bid by China to buy Unocal Corp., claiming it could threaten US national security, Canadians support potential oil deals with China.

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