Houston business leaders said here Thursday that cooperation with China would enjoy a further boost after the launch of a non-stop flight between Beijing and their city. \"As we know, the Houston area has already had very strong ties with China,\" Bob Harvey, president and CEO of Greater Houston Partnership, said at a business forum sponsored by his economic development organization. \"These ties are sure to grow much stronger as Air China begins their scheduled non-stop round-trip flights from Houston To Beijing on July 11,\" he added. Air China and Houston officials announced in January that the Chinese flag carrier will begin operating non-stop flights between Houston and Beijing on July 11, making the fourth largest U.S. city the airline\'s fifth destination in North America. The \"nonstop flight will undoubtedly usher in another window of opportunities to further expand cooperation between China and southern United States,\" Xu Erwen, Chinese consul general in Houston, said in a speech. More than 830 Houston companies are known to have business or trade ties with China, more than 550 firms in the Greater Houston region operate more than 3,000 subsidiaries in China, and more than 30 Chinese companies are located in the Greater Houston region, she noted. Trade between Houston and China hit 12.9 billion U.S. dollars in 2012, with a growth rate of 8.3 percent, Xu said, adding that cooperation in such fields as education, sports and culture has also seen steady increase. Noting that China will speed up economic restructuring and open up more opportunities for foreign partners, Xu said both Beijing and Washington are winners in strong China-U.S. economic and trade cooperation. U.S. business leaders expressed interest in the Chinese market, particularly in such fields as shale oil, gas and clean energy technologies. \"Both of those things -- trust and knowledge -- can only grow for us in Houston as our physical link to China increases with the Air China direct flight,\" Greg Burch, a partner of a local law firm, said at the forum. The business community in Houston has deep experience in addressing the issues that arise in doing business on a global basis, while \"enterprises based in Beijing have the experience and confidence to take the kinds of steps that have to be taken on the Chinese side,\" he noted.