OTTAWA, Canada (AP) – Chinese President Hu Jintao, intent on improving oil and energy ties with Canada, arrived Thursday for his first state visit to the country at a time of uneasy relations between Washington and Ottawa.

Hu’s visit was aimed at celebrating 35 years of diplomatic ties and rapidly expanding trade and energy agreements between China and Canada.

China is Canada’s second-largest trading partner, after the United States, and Ottawa and Beijing conducted some $30 billion worth of trade last year. With the world’s fastest growing economy and rapid urbanization, the Chinese are hungry for more oil and natural resources – and Canada has those, in abundance.

Washington will closely eye the official visit, which includes meetings with Prime Minister Paul Martin and federal, provincial and business leaders in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver.

The trip came the same week that Hu postponed a visit to the United States after President Bush canceled a meeting that had been planned for Wednesday with the Chinese leader, citing Hurricane Katrina.

Hu had been scheduled to visit Washington D.C. and Seattle and give a speech at Yale University – Bush’s alma mater – in what would have been his first U.S. visit since becoming president in 2003.

The two presidents intend to meet on the sidelines of a U.N. meeting next week in New York, but the postponement upset Hu’s plans to try to polish Beijing’s image in Washington amid strains.

Following the cancellation of Hu’s trip, China’s main Communist Party newspaper, the People’s Daily, assailed the U.S. response to Hurricane Katrina, saying Washington had been negligent and looters showed the dark side of American life.

“In the face of the hurricane, Americans accepted the challenge but failed to beat it off,” the newspaper said in an editorial on its English-language Web site this week.

“This is really a shame on the United States,” it said. “New Orleans has become Baghdad.”

Officially, the Chinese government has expressed its sympathy to Katrina’s victims, sending the U.S. a $5 million donation plus tents, bedding and electricity generators.

The Communist Party often expresses more pointed views than government spokespeople, though the party holds a monopoly on power and dictates official policy.

The United States relies on Canada for some 17 percent of its oil and energy and is well aware that China is boosting investments in Canadian oil and natural resources. At the same time, Washington and Ottawa, the world’s largest trading partners, continue to argue over lumber tariffs and question each other’s long-term defense policies.

“What I worry about is that the United States is making it easy for China; that in one way or another the United States is screwing up in its relationship with Canada,” said Richard C. Bush, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

“And that makes it very easy for Hu Jintao to walk in and say, “Hi, I’m from China and we want to be your friend. And by the way, I want to buy your oil and your minerals and let’s not worry about your neighbor next door. We’ve both got problems with them, so let’s talk.”‘

Vice President Dick Cheney’s national energy policy report in 2001 noted the importance of Canada’s oil sands to U.S. energy security. But while Americans blocked a bid by China to buy Unocal Corp., claiming it could threaten U.S. national security, Canadians support potential oil deals with China.

The state-controlled China National Petroleum Corp. announced last month it would pay $4.2 billion for Canada-based PetroKazakhstan Inc. In April, CNOOC bought nearly 17 percent of Calgary-based MEG Energy Corp.

Martin, meanwhile, is hosting Hu at a state banquet in Ottawa on Thursday. Hu will also attend a banquet and give a speech at the Canada China Business Council in Toronto on Saturday and visit Niagara Falls on a personal visit.

Hu then heads to Mexico on Sunday, followed by the trip to the U.N. The Chinese leader will return to Vancouver on Sept. 16 for two days of meetings and another banquet hosted by Martin.


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