Stephen Harper’s China trip ends with warm, fuzzy pandas

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is returning home with warm and fuzzy feelings, but it’s only partially because of two giant pandas coming with him.

The Canadian leader’s five-day trip to China ended today with promises of free trade and the 10-year loan of two panda bears. The $10-million panda deal begins next year, with the bears splitting their time between Toronto and Calgary zoos.

“I’ve lived in both cities and I can assure everyone that they will be wonderful hosts not only for the pandas, but also for the many tourists who will come to see them,” Harper said at the Chongqing zoo, Post Media said. “The pandas’ visit to Canada represents an important step forward in the blossoming relationship between our two peoples.”

The trip was a success on almost every front for the Conservative leader. He met with many high-ranking leaders, dined with chopsticks at a local restaurant, played ping-pong with students and assured the Chinese that Canadian energy is ready and waiting to purchase.

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Harper even mixed “Canadian values” and “human rights” into his speech Friday in front of business leaders, and avoided controversy during a meeting with Bo Xilai, Communist Party secretary in Chongqing. It was Bo’s top police officer, Wang Lijun, who appeared at an American consulate reportedly seeking asylum last week; nobody has seen him since.

Harper’s crowning jewel, though, might be Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s comments that Canada and China takes steps toward free trade, the Toronto Star said.

The Canadian PM said the two nations plan to collaborate this year on an economic co-operation study.

“It will lead us to discussions to examine the feasibility and some of the potentials of a free-trade agreement,” Harper said, the Toronto Star reported. “That’s still many steps from actually reaching a free-trade agreement. We’re not under any illusion there would (not) be some significant obstacles. But this government’s agenda is to diversify our trade,” he said.

Harper’s critics aren’t as impressed. They will no doubt remind him there were no politicians listening to his speech about human rights, and Canada’s energy is stuck in Alberta waiting for the Northern Gateway pipeline to pass environmental approvals.

When asked by a reporter about Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize winner jailed for “inciting subversion of state power,” and Husseyin Celil, a Canadian of Uyghur descent in jail since 2006, Harper avoided wading into the fray.

The PM said it’s his policy that, “when I’m in another country not to say anything publicly critical of that country,” the Globe and Mail reported.

More from GlobalPost: Canada selling energy, human rights in China

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