Canada tries diplomacy with China in row over jailed imam
MONTREAL - Canada's top diplomat is heading to China this week amid rising tensions over the life prison sentence that Beijing delivered this month to a Canadian imam on terrorism and separatism charges.
Foreign Minister Peter MacKay is to hold talks with his Chinese counterpart Li Zhaoxing on Monday and Tuesday in a bid to mend ties that have been damaged over the controversial case.
After a closed trial, Huseyin Celil, 37, a Chinese-born ethnic Uighur with Canadian citizenship, was sentenced on April 19 by China to life in prison for "the crime of splitting the motherland" and involvement in terrorism.
His sentencing sparked anger in Canada, which has protested China's failure to allow diplomatic visits and said it was concerned over allegations that Celil might have been subjected to torture and unfair trial proceedings.
China has warned that Celil's sentence was "related to anti-terrorism" and did not concern Canada.
MacKay has blasted Chinese authorities for their refusal to "recognize that Celil is a Canadian citizen" and asked them to investigate allegations that he was tortured while in Chinese custody.
After fleeing China to escape prison in 1996, Celil sought refuge in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and then Turkey before settling in 2001 in Canada, where he sought and was granted citizenship.
He was arrested in March 2006 during a trip to Uzbekistan and was extradited to China.
Prior to MacKay's arrival, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told Xinhua news agency Thursday he hoped Canada "would not interfere in the internal matter."
Liu said China hoped the visit "could play a positive role in improving and developing bilateral relations."
MacKay said he hoped the two-day visit would allow him to "set priorities for productive cooperation between Canada and China."
However, the task could be difficult because the Celil case is just the latest in a series of events that have soured relations between Ottowa and Beijing since the rise to power of the Conservatives in January 2006.
China has bristled at MacKay's accusations of corporate spying, and criticized Ottowa for showing little will to extradite Chinese wanted for crimes back home.
Beijing showed its displeasure at the Canadian parliament's decision to give honorary citizenship to Tibetan religious leader in exile, the Dalai Lama, in November.
Hu Jintao cancelled at the last minute talks with Prime Minister Stephen Harper during November's Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Hanoi.
In response to the snub, Harper told reporters: "I think Canadians want us to promote our trade relations worldwide, and we do that.
"But I don't think Canadians want us to sell our important Canadian values -- our belief in democracy, freedom, human rights. They don't want us to sell out that out to the almighty dollar."
One Chinese official warned early this year that criticisms from Canada over China's human rights policies could damage trade and political relations between the two countries.
Last Wednesday, Ottowa asked to take part in
World Trade Organization consultations on the application of intellectual property rights in China, after the United States lodged a pair of complaints against Beijing at the beginning of the month.
Canadian exports to China in 2006 reached 7.7 billion Canadian dollars (6.9 billion US dollars) and imports were 34.5 billion Canadian dollars (31 billion US dollars).
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