China snubs Canada for bilateral meeting at APEC conference

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Tue Nov 14, 9:35 PM

OTTAWA (CP) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper will not have an official meeting with his Chinese counterpart during this week's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, in an apparent snub by Beijing over the Conservative government's emphasis on human rights.

The two countries had been trying to negotiate a bilateral meeting between Harper and President Hu Jintao to take place prior to the APEC leaders forum in Hanoi, Vietnam. Chinese officials said Canada had approached them for a meeting, while Canadian officials said it was the other way around.

But by late Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Harper said there would be no meeting. "China approached us about a meeting. We said Yes. We have since learned that the meeting offer has now been declined," said Sandra Buckler, Harper's director of communications.

"We remain open to meeting with China at any time - at APEC or anywhere else. We would, however, want a substantive agenda on economic and trade relations and consular cases like Celil."

Celil refers to Huseyin Celil, a Chinese-Canadian held in prison by China for alleged terrorism links. China does not recognize his Canadian citizenship, and his family says he is being persecuted because of his religion. The Conservative government has been aggressively lobbying for his release.

No one from the Chinese embassy in Ottawa was immediately available for comment. A Canadian official said there was still the chance the two leaders could meet in a "pull aside," international forum-speak for an informal chat during the course of the larger conference.