Harper, Hu finally meet

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has had a 'frank and constructive' conversation with President Hu Jintao of China, after several days of uncertainty about Beijing cancelling plans for talks.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper had an informal meeting Saturday night with Chinese President Hu Jintao before a banquet at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Hanoi.

The two men engaged in a "frank and constructive" conversation, according to an e-mail sent to Canadian journalists covering the meeting by one of Harper's aides.

"They discussed a range of issues, from economic to political, including consular cases," the e-mail said.

There have been doubts about whether the two leaders would meet at all.As Harper was enroute to the Hanoi summit, Canadian officials said China had pulled out of plans for formal bilateral talks, apparently annoyed that the prime minister intended to raise human-rights issues.

Harper told reporters he would never compromise on Canada's principled positions simply because China isan importanttrading partner.

"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 — our belief in democracy, freedom, human rights," Harper said.

'Irresponsible remarks'

China denied it had withdrawn a request for talks, and said Harper and Hu would meet informally at some point during the summit.A Foreign Ministry official in Beijing warned Canada against making "irresponsible remarks about China's internal affairs."

The "consular case" that has raised Chinese hackles involves Huseyin Celil, a Chinese-Canadian sentenced to 15 years in prison on terror charges. China has not recognized his Canadian citizenship, and Celil's family says as a Muslim he is the victim of religious persecution.

Beijing has also taken exception to meetings between members of Harper's cabinet and the Dalai Lama, the leader of Tibet's government in exile, and Canadian allegations about Chinese commercial espionage that affects Canadian companies.

Previous Liberal governments have consistently raised human rights concerns in meetings with Chinese leaders and officials but — concerned about the huge trade relationship with China — have kept such concerns low key and confined to private meeting rooms.

Some foreign policy analysts have expressed concern about Harper's blunt style in foreign policy matters, and urged him to proceed more cautiously on a number of fronts, from China to Middle East policy.

with files from the Canadian Press