Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) began day three of his first official North American tour yesterday after forging a "strategic partnership" with Canada and signing a raft of trade and cooperation accords.
Although talks between Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin and Hu on Friday touched on the sensitive issue of Beijing's human rights' record, the two still managed to firm up their already-strong trade partnership.
The two agreed to work together on nuclear energy, to triple passenger and cargo flights, share railway technology, improve food safety and plant and animal health and collaborate on health research.
Hu said the move would "upgrade the China-Canada relationship into a strategic partnership."
They also found consensus on issues such as climate change, UN reform, Pacific region security and how best to deal with the threat of an avian influenza pandemic, Martin said.
"We leave here today having strengthened a partnership that was already very solid. On issues ranging from the environment to trade to governance, let there be no doubt that China and Canada are putting in place a relationship that will be long-lasting and of lasting benefit," he said.
But the nagging issue of China's human-rights record also featured highly.
Martin said he demanded "greater freedom of expression, association, religion and faith," of the Chinese leader.
"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," Martin said.
Groups including rights watchdog Amnesty International, PEN Canada -- a freedom of expression group -- and the Canadian Labor Congress had demanded that Martin push Hu on the issue.
Hu, in response, said problems were evident but that the Chinese government was striving to improve its human-rights record.
"We attach great importance to the civil rights of our citizens. We will continue to make new efforts towards further improvements and safeguarding of human rights" with Canada's help, Hu said.
However, China's "top priority" remains its people's survival and development, Hu told reporters during a press conference at the Canadian parliament.
Outside parliament, the front lawn of the capital building was split, with Hu supporters wearing red on one side and members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement dressed in yellow on the other, protesting China's treatment of the sect.
A handful of people also demanded China "keep its hands off" Taiwan.
The visit was Hu's first to Canada and only the third by a Chinese president since diplomatic relations were established in 1970.
Canada became the first stop on Hu's tour after China agreed to postpone a visit to Washington because of US President George W. Bush's busy schedule handling the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
"To develop a friendly relationship and cooperation with Canada is an important component of China's foreign policy. We stand ready to work together [on a wide range of areas]," Hu said.
China is Canada's second-biggest trading partner behind the US.
Last year, Canadian exports to China grew by 40 percent while the goods moving in the opposite direction increased 30 percent, often displacing other Asian imports. Total trade is worth US$30 billion dollars.
The two countries will "cooperate on the widest range of areas as possible from financial services to the development of new technologies, certainly environmental technologies," Martin said.