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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hu, Martin Agree on Strategic Partnership

TORONTO -- Chinese President Hu Jintao and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin spoke Friday of forming a strategic partnership in energy and trade, deepening an economic relationship that is becoming increasingly important to both countries. It was the first visit by a Chinese leader to Canada in eight years. Beijing is looking for new sources of energy, and Ottawa is looking to diversify its international markets.

After talks on Friday, the two leaders said they had reached agreements to cooperate in nuclear energy research and development, tourism, trade and the environment, and they soft-peddled disagreements on human rights. They also signed an agreement to triple the number of flights between China and Canada to an average of nearly 10 per day.

"We both agreed to upgrade the relationship into a strategic partnership," Hu told reporters after the signing ceremony. Martin agreed, saying, "Never has our relationship been more important than today."

China is already Canada's second-most important trading partner, after the United States, with $26 billion in goods and services exchanged annually. With China hungry for energy to drive its booming economy and expanding cities, there is the potential for continuing expansion.

The growing Chinese interest in Canada's natural gas, uranium and oil sands was underscored in April when Canadian company Enbridge signed an agreement with PetroChina to construct a $2.1 billion pipeline from northern Alberta to a Canadian Pacific port, which would ultimately export 400,000 barrels of oil per day. China National Petroleum Corporation in April paid $120 million for a 17 percent share of the Calgary-based MEG Energy to gain a stake in Canada's oil sands and has offered to pay nearly $4 billion for another Canadian company, PetroKazakhstan.

Hu, who arrived in Canada on Thursday, is visiting Ottawa, Toronto and Niagara Falls. He will also fly to Vancouver before returning to China.

With 1 million Chinese immigrants living in Canada, there is a natural bridge for trade. Already, 400 Canadian-based companies have a presence in China.

At the signing ceremony on Friday, Martin pressed Hu on human rights. "Given the increasing leadership role that we believe China will play in the world, it's very important that that leadership be accompanied by continual improvements of human rights within China," he said.

Hu said that China had made great strides in human rights, and played down any disagreement with Canada. "It is quite normal for our two countries to have different views on human rights," he said.