China is not taking Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to skip the Olympic Games as a snub, Canadian Foreign Minister David Emerson said Thursday after arriving in Beijing.
Relations between the prime minister, who has yet to visit China, and Chinese President Hu Jintao have been tense ever since Harper said he would not sacrifice human rights for contracts with China.
But Emerson, who is heading Canada's official delegation at the Games, dismissed charges that the decision would worsen recent tensions between Ottawa and Beijing, saying relations with China have entered a period of renewal.
"I don't think it's a snub at all," said Emerson, who was appointed to foreign affairs following Maxime Bernier's resignation in May. "President Hu was very receptive to having the foreign minister leading the Canadian delegation."
U.S. President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy plan to attend Friday's opening ceremonies.
Harper, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk are among world leaders who have said they plan to stay away from the Games.
The Chinese government hasn't criticized Harper publicly, but the Global Times, a widely read offshoot of the People's Daily, recently published a photograph of Harper and Merkel with a caption claiming the two were boycotting the Games.
Whatever the reason, Harper's decision not to attend the Olympics may not be the right signal to send the Chinese, said Howard Balloch, a former Canadian ambassador to China.
"I think by saying you're not coming to make a political statement — if that's his intent, of the Canadian government — I think it's the wrong thing to be doing," Balloch told CBC News.
Jean Chrétien led numerous trade missions to China while he was prime minister, selling Canadian technology such as Candu nuclear reactors.
Harper also skipped the Winter Olympics in Torino, while Paul Martin didn't go to Athens for the 2004 Summer Games.