Canadian Trade Minister David Emerson signed a technology deal with China, on a visit aimed at reinvigorating relations with the Asian superpower that have been dented by Canada’s blunt talk on human rights.

Critics blame Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for a lapse in relations between Canada and China after his criticism of Beijing’s rights record, which nearly scuttled his meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit in November.

Emerson hinted that Canada would keep rights on the agenda.

“We talk candidly about democratic governance, about the importance of rule of law, and about corporate social responsibility,” he said in a speech to business executives.

“Open discussion and engagement in these broader issues should not conflict with commercial interests.”

Emerson will be joined by Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in the highest-level mission to China since the Conservatives under Harper took office a year ago.

The science and technology agreement, signed with Chinese Science and Technology Minister Xu Guanhua, is to boost collaborative research and development, particularly in the areas of energy, the environment and green technologies.

“We are looking forward to using this as a powerful vehicle for broadening our relationship with China on science, on technology and on the commercialization of science and technology,” Emerson told a news conference.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said cooperation was developing well but added that Canada should show “sincerity” in dealing with China on political matters.

“We hope the Canadian side can offer its sincerity, not only in the fields of economics and trade, but also in political cooperation, in order to promote mutual trust in politics,” spokesman Liu Jianchao told a regular news briefing.

Analysts said talking about human rights and trade deals did not have to be mutually exclusive.

“I don’t think a discussion of human rights has had a lot of impact on Canadian business,” said Howard Balloch, head of The Balloch Group investment advisory firm and a former Canadian ambassador to Beijing.

“I think the ‘illogic’ is to suggest that we are in an either/or situation,” he said.

Emerson shrugged off suggestions the trip was about making up with China, saying the two countries had a “close and quite deep relationship” that Canada needed to better leverage into trade and investment opportunities. (Reuters)