Stark contrast to months of chilly relations

Harper held an upbeat photo-op with the Chinese ambassador in his Langevin Block office late last week to announce his third visit to the country following a long-standing invitation from President Xi Jinping.

But the warm encounter was in stark contrast to months of chilly relations between the two countries that almost iced the visit entirely, an expert on Chinese-Canadian relations says.

"I think the invitation has been on the table for a year and a half, and there was no decision until very recently; it was on-again, off-again," said Paul Evans, author of "Engaging China" and an international relations professor at the University of British Columbia.

"It's extraordinary that there seems to have been no decision until very recently."

Since Harper's last visit to China in 2012, the Conservatives restricted state-owned Chinese investment in Alberta's oilsands and have yet to respond to an invitation to negotiate a free-trade agreement with China.

The government also dragged its heels on ratifying a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement with the Chinese.

Tensions reached a fever pitch in recent months after Harper accused the Chinese of a cyberattack on the National Research Council; the Chinese, meanwhile, have accused a Canadian couple living in China of spying.

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