Chinese President Hu Jintao (
On the third day of his first state visit to North America, Hu met with International Trade Minister Jim Peterson and gave a speech at a banquet in his honor hosted by the Canada China Business Council in Toronto, the financial capital of the North American nation.
Hu outlined China's economic growth since it opened its economy more than two decades ago, taking pride in its remarkable expansion, but conceding living standards among China's 1.3 billion people were still lagging.
"Since embarking on reform and opening up at the end of the 1970s, China has undergone unprecedented and profound changes," Hu told some 800 guests, adding that China's GDP has grown at an average annual rate of 9.4 percent since 1978.
"The key to such an impressive performance lies in our success in finding a path of development suited to our national conditions -- that is, building socialism with Chinese characteristics," Hu said in a 20-minute speech, amid tight security and police dogs.
Hu noted that trade with Canada accounted for just 1.3 percent of China's total trade last year, while Chinese trade made up 2.6 percent of Canada's total exports and imports.
"Needless to say, China is still a developing country of 1.3 billion people," he said. "Its productive forces are not fully developed. China's GDP in aggregate runs among the world's largest, but in per-capita terms, it lags behind the 100th place."
He vowed that Beijing would quadruple the nation's GDP and bring per-capita income up to US $3,000 by 2020.
"We will further develop the economy, improve democracy, advance science and education, enrich our culture, foster greater social harmony and upgrade the texture of life for the people," he said.
Just outside the ballroom, and under the watchful eyes of Canadian and Chinese intelligence officials and Toronto police, hundreds of members of Falun Gong and other demonstrators protested China's treatment of dissidents and urged the Canadian government to place human rights above business interests.
Hu's predecessor, Jiang Zemin, outlawed the form of spiritual meditation and thousands of Falun Gong followers have been jailed since Beijing declared Falun Gong an "evil cult."
"We want to appeal to our Canadian government officials to protect the dignity of Canada and the integrity of Canada," said Joel Chipkar, spokesman for the Falun Dafa Association of Canada.
Waving anti-Chinese government banners, the demonstrators called on Hu to improve the treatment of religious and political prisoners and free Tibet.
China has ruled Tibet with an iron fist since its troops occupied the territory in 1951. China claims Tibet has been part of its territory for at least seven centuries, but many Tibetans say they were an independent nation for most of that time.
The tight security for the event was tested before Hu's arrival by a single protester dressed in a suit and tie, who handcuffed himself to a long bench inside the convention center and screamed, "Free Tibet!" before being removed by police and arrested.
At a Friday press conference, Hu spent nearly an hour defending China's human rights policies, particularly those regarding the jailing and persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, pro-democracy activists, Christians and Tibetans.