Stephen Harper Wraps Up China Trip with Hands on Pandas and Politics: Pandas, Politics Wrap Harper's China Trip

Article excerpt

CHONGQING, China - Prime Minister Stephen Harper wrapped up his trip to China with his hands on a national treasure but avoided a public handshake with a controversial politician.

Harper's final bilateral meeting Saturday was with Bo Xilai, a rising star in Chinese politics expected to be moving closer to China's inner circle.

The meeting was one of several Harper held with the next generation of Chinese leadership, a sign that the current Chinese government views Canada as a country worth getting to know in the long term.

That view was further reinforced by an agreement signed Saturday for the Chinese to loan Canada two pandas for the next 10 years.

But Bo's political future has been cast in doubt after his deputy mayor spent a day in a U.S. consulate in southwestern China amid speculation that he sought political asylum. Wang Lijun had been the top police officer in Chongqing until he was mysteriously removed last week.

He stayed on as a deputy mayor and was reassigned to duties involving the local economy and education.

As the city's top cop, he had helped carry out a widespread crackdown on organized crime groups seen as part of a campaign to promote Bo, the city's Communist party secretary and one of the country's most prominent political figures.

Unlike his previous photo opportunities with political leaders, Harper did not pose for the usual handshake photograph with Bo, instead greeting the leader outside of the sight of journalists.

The two sat across from a large conference table, with Bo showing no sign of the political controversy swirling around him and Harper not acknowledging it either.

What most Canadians are going to take away from his trip, Harper told the party secretary, wasn't the government-to-government relationship or the business deals.

"More people in Canada will notice the pandas than anything else," he joked.

Bo did not laugh.

But the panda deal represents a significant thaw in Sino-Canadian relations. Even zoo officials, who'd been negotiating for a set of pandas for over a decade said the final push was because the two countries had renewed their dialogue with Harper's last visit in 2009. …