| OTTAWA, Sept 2
OTTAWA, Sept 2 Senior officials from Canada and
China met quietly in Ottawa last week to discuss relations that
have deteriorated so badly that they could threaten Prime
Minister Stephen Harper's planned visit to China in November.
Canada sees China as an important trading partner and in
early 2012 Harper went to Beijing to pitch the idea of Canada as
a potential oil supplier. The closeness of the ties are in
question after two high-profile incidents.
In late July, Canada accused Chinese hackers of being
responsible for an attack on a government computer. In early
August, China detained a Canadian couple, Kevin Garratt and
Julia Dawn Garratt, on suspicion of spying.
A statement posted on the Chinese embassy's website said a
delegation led by assistant foreign minister Zheng Zeguang met a
series of senior Canadian officials for talks on Aug. 26.
"The two sides exchanged views on China-Canada relations as
well as international and regional issues of common concern,"
the statement said.
Canadian officials had not mentioned the meeting to
The embassy and the office of Foreign Minister John Baird
were not immediately available for comment. A spokesman for
Harper, who flew to Europe on Tuesday, did not respond to a
request for comment.
Harper is set to attend an Asian regional summit on Nov. 10
and 11. Both sides had sketched out plans for a three-day tour
of Chinese cities on the sidelines of the summit but a
well-placed Canadian official said the idea was now in doubt.
"It will be hard for the prime minister to do that if the
Garratts are still detained," said the official, who spoke on
condition of anonymity.
Brock University professor Charles Burton, a former Canadian
diplomat who served two tours in China, said it was significant
that the Chinese delegation to Ottawa had met Ray Novak,
Harper's influential chief of staff.
"It may be that Ray really wants to make clear that
resolution of the Garratt incarceration is something that the
prime minister takes very seriously and to impress upon the
Chinese ministry of foreign affairs that this matter will have a
significant impact on other aspects of the relationship if the
Garratts are not released this fall," Burton said.
"But I am not confident that we can get movement on this as
the Garratts are being held in a Chinese Security Ministry
facility, not a civil prison."
China is investigating the Garratts for suspected theft of
military and intelligence information and for threatening
national security. Relatives of the couple have said the
suspicions are unfounded. The Garratts ran a coffee shop in
Dandong on the border with North Korea. Last November, he told
parishioners in a Canadian church that he also ran a prayer and
training facility that was frequented by North Koreans.
Last month, in what appeared to be a move to ease tensions,
China's ambassador wrote an article for a major Canadian
newspaper describing relations as good.
(Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Grant McCool)