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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna during a meeting with China's President Xi Jinping at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on Dec. 5, 2017.Fred Dufour/The Globe and Mail

The dignitaries at the signing ceremony in Beijing's St. Regis Hotel on Friday paid homage to Xi Jinping and repeatedly name-checked the Chinese president's favoured project.

This is not how venture capital funds are brought to life in other places. But it was how a small group of Canadian money managers agreed to join forces with a government-backed Chinese firm, in a unique partnership that Ottawa has showcased as an example of what can be accomplished as it seeks to lead the global environmental agenda in step with Beijing.

"You have complete alignment between the Canadian government and the Chinese government, Canadian companies and Chinese companies," said Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, who is in the midst of a lengthy China trip to further cement Ottawa's ties with Beijing.

Earlier in the week, the two countries released a joint statement that committed Canada to work with China on climate change.

"The Paris Agreement is irreversible," the statement says, and "will not be renegotiated."

"That's a very important message to the world. It's an important message to the markets, it's an important message to all countries that we're moving forward on climate action," Ms. McKenna said in an interview Friday.

The document points to a series of areas where both sides agree to work together, including the installation of CANDU nuclear technology in China and abroad, trade in Canadian uranium and natural gas, the use of lumber in construction and sustainable development in mining and oil and gas.

"We are working very closely with them," Ms. McKenna said, both because "the future of the planet depends on it, but also because of the economic opportunity."

It's the latest example of how Ottawa is turning toward Beijing – and hoping Canadian businesses can profit – as Washington withdraws from elements of the international agenda. Ms. McKenna said she has agreed with China's special representative on climate change affairs, Xie Zhenhua, that "we needed to step it up with the U.S. stepping back," she said.

On Friday, she pointed to a pair of deals as proof of the value in such alignment. One involves bringing Canadian carbon capture and storage technology to China. The other places a Montreal firm, Cycle Capital Management, alongside Chinese partners at the helm of a new $125-million venture capital fund.

"If you are a small startup in cleantech and want to make a difference, you absolutely need a Chinese partner somewhere among your clients," said Andrée-Lise Méthot, Cycle's founder and managing partner.

The new fund, which will be co-managed with China's Qingdao City Construction Investment Group, is a major expansion for Cycle, which previously had $230-million under management.

Of course, it is small relative to the $20.5-billion (U.S.) in Chinese venture capital investment in the first half of this year alone.

But the Canadian involvement underscores both the shifting nature of Chinese business, and the new opportunities that can arise for those willing to dip into a country that remains radically different from home.

Qingdao City Construction Investment Group is a state-owned entity whose president, Xing Luzheng, speaks like a government official, quoting President Xi and offering support for One Belt One Road (OBOR). One of Mr. Xi's central initiatives, OBOR is a plan to place China at the centre of new trading networks and spread the Chinese development model to its neighbours.

The new fund with Cycle "echoes the core idea of One Belt One Road, and is also what the leaders of two countries would love to see," Mr. Xing said.

But he then shifts into the language of the globalized economy, pointing to the need for international co-operation, synergies and the creation of high-tech companies in Qingdao, the coastal Chinese city that owns the fund.

"Environmental protection, modern technologies and the like are exactly what Chinese companies need right now," he said.

The fund will make its first investment of $9.7-million in Ririshun LifeEasy, a company that offers software and services designed to improve efficiency in logistics, housekeeping and health food.

Formed in 2015, Ririshun is a spinoff of Haier, the Chinese white-goods giant with $40-billion in global in revenue last year.

"As a big corporation, we don't need more financial investment," admits Qi Yunshan, the chairman of Ririshun and a vice-president with Haier. But bringing in money from a fund with Canadian co-managers "means the capital markets consider it something with great potential," while bringing outside scrutiny, he said. "We used to be like a tree in a greenhouse. Now we are plants in the rain forest," he said.

For Canada, meanwhile, environmental links with China offer opportunity outside a free-trade agreement, after the formal launch of trade talks faltered this week over disagreement on Canada's "progressive" demands for chapters on labour, gender – and the environment.

Pursuing cleaner technology "will make our companies more competitive because we are innovating," said Ms. McKenna, who emphasized the value of working with the Chinese government.

Canada's environment-focused "companies are SMEs, largely, so they actually do need help," she said. In China, "a lot of the deals are with government, because government is responsible for air and water – government directly, or state-owned enterprises. And so these relationships matter."

The Prime Minister left China Thursday without committing to the start of free trade talks with the country. Justin Trudeau says co-ordinating two different economic systems presents challenges.

The Canadian Press

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