SHANGHAI — The Canadian government will open seven additional visa application centres in China to help serve a growing number of Chinese tourists who are crossing the Pacific to explore Canada.
The two countries confirmed the agreement Thursday in a joint statement that followed the first leg of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's official visit to China.
Over two days in Beijing, Trudeau held several meetings with Chinese leaders at the highest levels, including President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.
Trudeau's in China to strengthen Canada's business and cultural ties with the world's second-largest economy and an expanding middle class.
On Thursday, the government announced that Canadian and Chinese companies signed 56 new commercial contracts and agreements worth $1.2 billion.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers remarks at the start of a meeting with the Chairman of the National People's Congress Zhang Dejiang, not pictured, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, on Thursday. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
Boosting tourism is also part of the government's plan to create closer links.
The Canadian envoy to China told reporters that until now, visa offices for Chinese tourists were limited to cities where Canada has a diplomatic presence.
"This is an important element that Prime Minister Trudeau is promoting in his visit to China,'' said Guy Saint-Jacques, who joined Trudeau at the Great Wall of China for an announcement that the countries would co-operate on the development of Chinese national parks.
"As of this summer, you can fly to Canada from 11 cities here in China, so therefore that's why need to have more visa application centres.''
Chinese tourists to Montreal have spiked
Saint-Jacques said Chinese tourist travel to Canada rose 24 per cent in the first six months of this year. He noted that now only Americans and Brits visit Canada more than the Chinese.
The number of Chinese tourists who visited Montreal this year has spiked 200 per cent since a direct Air China flight from Beijing was added in September 2015, he added.
After the national parks announcement, Trudeau explored a section of the Great Wall with his wife Sophie Gregoire and their daughter, Ella-Grace.
The portion of the Wall they walked was temporarily closed to the public — providing them with a peaceful section to stroll, away from the usual hordes of visitors.
One of two young children who presented flowers gives the thumbs up as he poses with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Sophie Gregoire and Ella-Grace Trudeau as they arrive in Shanghai, Thursday. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
Trudeau also met Thursday with Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People.
"I do believe that your current visit to China will have an important influence on further deepening the strategic partnership between our two countries,'' Zhang told Trudeau through an interpreter, shortly after they sat in a massive meeting room.
"Mr. Prime Minister I know that you came to China a long time ago ... But I know this visit to China — first time as prime minister of Canada — will certainly leave you a deep and new impression.''
Trudeau told Zhang that his visit was an opportunity to continue to "build on the strong friendship between Canada and China, and talk about how we move forward in ways that will benefit both of our peoples.''
"I know this visit to China — first time as prime minister of Canada — will certainly leave you a deep and new impression.''
Later Thursday, Trudeau travelled south to Shanghai.
He is scheduled to deliver what one senior government official described as an important speech Thursday at a gala hosted by the Canada China Business Council. His address is expected to focus on economic investments, clean technology and trade.
Later in the eight-day visit to China, Trudeau will attend the G20 leaders' summit in Hangzhou.