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Prime Minister Stephen Harper talks with the media aboard his aircraft en route to Vietnam on Wednesday. ((Tom Hanson/Canadian Press))

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says his government will notabandon "important Canadian values" by toning downcriticisms of China's human rights record to improve trade relations with Beijing.

Harper made the comments to reporterson Wednesday afterbeing apparently snubbedby Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Harper, who was on his plane en route to the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation conference in Vietnam, was supposed to have a private meeting with Hu. But after some initial talks between the two countries, the Chinese leaderdeclined to meet with Harper.

Harper said he couldn't explain the snub, but hinted that the Chinese were trying to put conditions on what subjects could be discussed during the meeting, the Canadian Press reported.

"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 out important Canadian values," Harper said.

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Chinese President Hu Jintao won't meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Hanoi, which is being seen by some as a snub over Canada's criticism of China's human rights record. ((Kyodo News/Associated Press))

"They don't want us to sell that out to the almighty dollar."

The government hadindicated it would like to discuss a number of issues, including the case of Chinese-Canadian Huseyin Celil, who is being held in a Chinese prison for allegedly having links to Muslim separatist extremist groups in his native Xingiang province in northwest China.

China has not recognized his Canadian citizenship, while his family says he is being singled out and discriminated against because he is a Muslim. The Harper government is insisting that he should be released.

China-Canada relations a 'real mess'

Robert Bothwell, the director of the international relations program at University of Toronto, said he was surprised that Canadian officials thought they would be able to arrange a meeting with the Chinese president.

Bothwellsaid the Harper government has indicated how it feels on a number of issues involving the Chinese government.

'Obviously, on the political level, relations between China and Canada are quite poor.I'm actually surprised that the Canadian side thought that they were going to get a meeting.'-Robert Bothwell, international relations expert

For example, Harper's parliamentary secretary, Jason Kenney, has longcriticized China's human rights record and recently met with the leader of Tibet's government-in-exile.Bothwell said these positionsdo not go unnoticed.

"I find it irrational because if you are going to make favourable noises about Taiwan and if you're going to meet with the Dalai Lama and if you're going to sound off on Chinese civil rights and if your parliamentary assistant, while he was visiting China last year, made a tremendous point of being filmed interviewing dissidents, then plainly you're taking a stand," Bothwell said.

"That's fine. But you shouldn't in return expect that they're going to do you any favours."

Relations between China and Canada are a "real mess," he added.

"Obviously, on the political level, relations between China and Canada are quite poor," he said. "I'm actually surprised that the Canadian side thought that they were going to get a meeting."

In Hanoi, Harper is expected to have bilateral meetings with leaders from Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand and Korea.

Security in Hanoi was already being increased on Wednesday as the city prepares forleaders of APEC nations to arrive. APEC has 21 members and the conference is the 14th meeting of APEC leaders.

With files from the Canadian Press