On his first trip to the Middle Kingdom, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has landed in hot water with the Chinese government for not coming to China earlier.
In front of both delegations and international media, Premier Wen Jiabao publicly rebuked Harper, saying, "This is your first visit to China and this is the first meeting between the Chinese premier and a Canadian prime minister in almost five years," Wen told Harper through an interpreter. "Five years is too long a time for China-Canada relations and that's why there are comments in the media that your visit is one that should have taken place earlier."
Apparently Harper sat there stone-faced before replying, "I agree with you Premier that five years is a long time. It's also been almost five years since we had yourself or President Hu in our country." Harper then went on to invite Wen or President Hu "in the not too distant future."
The public lecturing was probably the first time ever between heads of state. When Wen refers to Chinese media, he's really referring to the government as all media is state controlled.
But Wen is correct that it has been too long.
When he was leader of the opposition, Harper constantly criticized China for its human rights record, and continued to do that as part of his election platform. This resulted in tepid relations with China. The country imports $1 trillion-worth of goods from overseas each year, and Canada accounts for only 1 percent of that.
And in a big public snub last year, Harper did not take up China's invitation to attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.
Canada's reputation in China is now hanging by a thread, but thankfully bolstered by the historic contribution of Norman Bethune and the current popularity of smooth bilingual talker Dashan or Mark Roswell.
While the Liberals have had a tradition of cozy relations with China, why do the Conservatives choose to rock the boat?
What's also interesting is following US President Barack Obama's visit to China, he too was muzzled for most of the trip and many critics say he did not achieve much on the trip.
Perhaps China's confidence is growing so much so that it feels it can control world leaders?
Or are other countries finally kowtowing to the Middle Kingdom?