HOBART, Australia (AFP) - China's President Xi Jinping fulfilled a long-held dream on Tuesday by visiting Australia's smallest state, with howling tasmanian devils and plans for a deal on Antarctica on his agenda.
The Chinese leader has visited every other Australian state and territory and has long expressed a desire to see the island of Tasmania, joking on Monday that he should receive a certificate for his travels across the country.
He touched down on Tuesday in Hobart, where he was warmly welcomed, including by a group of schoolchildren. His visit is set to include a seeing baby tasmanian devils, the black, furry native animals named for the state.
Tasmanians have been enthusiastic about Mr Xi's visit, with the Chinese leader's picture splashed across the front page of The Mercury newspaper, which welcomed him in Mandarin and English. "Your visit to Hobart is a significant step in the relationship between us; one which has been built on a spirit of friendship and mutual respect," it said.
Mr Xi said he chose to visit the southern state after the Group of 20 summit in Brisbane on the weekend after receiving a letter from primary school students in Launceston in the state's north.
"In their letter, they describe Tasmania's unique products and beautiful scenery, they hand-wrote the letter in Chinese," Mr Xi said in his address to the Australian Parliament in Canberra on Monday.
"And their words have filled me with curiosity."
The so-called Apple Isle has been building its links with China after becoming the sister state of Fujian province in 1980. Mr Xi previously served as the province's governor.
Tasmania is also is hoping to cash in on the growing economic clout of China's middle classes through food and wine exports, renewable energy projects, tourism and trade.
The state's Premier Will Hodgman signed four agreements with China in Canberra on Monday which will increase Tasmania's links with the China Development Bank Cooperation, Fijian and Shaanxi provinces and support the development of a wind farm.
In Hobart, Mr Xi will attend a showcase of Australia-China Antarctic cooperation and vow to strengthen ties on the icy continent with Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Mr Peter Chung, a third-generation Chinese Australian and retired businessman, said Mr Xi's visit would help to put the state on the map.
"When I travelled overseas, not many people I met knew where Tasmania was," Mr Chung, who was the president of Tasmania's Chinese Community Association for three decades, told AFP.
"But now, people say - I know where it is."
China is the largest source of international visitors to Tasmania, with a 61 per cent increase in the number of tourists to 20,400 in the year to June, Tourism Tasmania data showed.