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The premier Kathleen Wynn meets with the Hong Kong Chief Executive, Leung Chun-ying, at his residence in Hong Kong, November 10, 2015.Jackson Lowen/The Globe and Mail

In a fifth-floor meeting room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beijing, Kathleen Wynne sat down for a lecture on selling Ontario products on the Chinese Internet.

Chinese customers have fallen for what they assume to be American ginseng, said Jerome Ma, a corporate vice-president at JD.com Inc., a massive Amazon-like online retailer.

There's just one problem. Much of it isn't American at all.

"Eighty per cent or more are from your province," Mr. Ma told Ms. Wynne. What Ontario needs, he said, is "brand, brand, brand."

Over eight days in China, Ms. Wynne and a delegation of 83 industry leaders signed a blizzard of deals that will see new Chinese business for Ontario universities, hospitals, manufacturers, producers of food and even angel investors.

In total, the deals could one day be worth as much as $2.5-billion, although some of the agreements have firm commitments for only a 10th of the headline number, and Ms. Wynne acknowledged that some could fall through.

The Premier called the China trip, her second, a "wonderful achievement" whose deal volume shows "there is so much capacity for us to work together.

But it was also an education in how the traditional Canadian political strategy in China, with its big-ticket Team Canada-style trips, is facing challenges in a fast-changing country.

"This is not the first time that I've had it said to me: people need to know who you are, what your brand is, and you need to talk about yourself more," Ms. Wynne said in an interview. "We need to be much clearer about who we are."

Doing that isn't simple for Ontario, whose economic base spans agriculture, manufacturing, high tech and financial services. But Ontario should consider more single-industry trips to China, Ms. Wynne said, rather than relying solely on omnibus delegations.

"We need to be better about bringing together the strengths of a sector and introducing that strength to counterparts in China," she said.

Ms. Wynne's trip is set against a deeply-imbalanced trading relationship – Ontario imports $34-billion worth of goods from China, but exports just $2-billion – and problems arising from the cancellation of the federal immigrant-investor program under the Harper government.

In the past, large numbers of investor immigrants set their sights on Canada. Now, they're going to the United States.

Ontario has promised an entrepreneur stream that would open a new avenue for non-corporate investors to immigrate, saying details would be available in the fall of 2015. But that has yet to happen.

"There's lots of investment, lots of good businesspeople that we could be attracting to the country if we kept our immigration policies a bit more reasonable," said Bruce Lazenby, president of Invest Ottawa, which works to boost investment in the Ottawa region.

At the same time, however, China's economy is changing in ways that stand to benefit Ontario. In the past, its great hunger for resources drove investment to places with energy and mining prospects, such as Alberta.

Now, with slowing growth and a severe pollution hangover, Chinese leadership is emphasizing consumer demand and new technology – a better fit for a province such as Ontario.

"From a business point of view, we're starting finally to align," Mr. Lazenby said. "Canada is really good at innovation, really bad at commercialization, and the reverse is true" in China, he said in Beijing Friday. "The fit is evident."

It doesn't hurt, either, that the slowdown in China has tempered investor expectations of 20- to 30-per-cent returns, which are hard to come by in Canada.

Chinese policy changes are providing new openings, too. Drafts of China's 13th five-year plan place new emphasis on hydrogen fuel-cell power in public transportation. That coming change helped Hydrogenics Corp. sign deals to sell of up to $100-million in fuel-cell-powered buses to China over the next three to five years, with roughly $10-million in firm orders for 2016.

"It's a very important milestone for the commercialization of fuel cells," one that stands to vault China into the top market for the Mississauga-based company, said chief executive officer Daryl Wilson.

The rising mobility of the Chinese middle class, meanwhile, is driving new real estate projects, such as Paradise at Niagara, where Chinese investors want to build 10,000 units on land in Niagara Falls on the Welland River. The plan is replicated in part from an existing riverside development in Beijing, designed with a tea house and other features to make Chinese people feel at home.

The idea is to attract Chinese investors, both those living in China and those already in Canada.

"China is transitioning from a manufacturing powerhouse to a real economic power," said Cao Rong, a vice-president with GR Investment Holdings Ltd., one of the investors in the project. His pitch in Beijing referred to a Canadian housing market that is "very stable. So it is a very safe investment."

Then there's China's thriving online marketplaces. JD.com sells few Canadian products right now. But it is searching for a more diverse set of international goods, after initially focusing on imports from South Korea, Japan, the United States and Australia.

After lecturing Ms. Wynne on what Ontario could do better, Mr. Ma offered a gift of a stuffed puppy, the JD.com mascot. The Ontario delegation offered ice wine.

Looking at the bottle in his hand, Mr. Ma smiled. "I'm going to be your promoter," he said.