Xi spat with Trudeau lays bare China's frayed ties with Canada

Published November 17, 2022
<p>This handout photo released by the Office of the Prime Minister of Canada on November 16 shows Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L) speaking to Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 in Bali. — AFP</p>

This handout photo released by the Office of the Prime Minister of Canada on November 16 shows Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L) speaking to Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 in Bali. — AFP

Chinese President Xi Jinping scolded Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in an on-camera dressing down at the G20 summit, an unusual public spat that could further complicate the strained relations between the two countries.

Footage recorded by reporters at the Bali conclave for world leaders on Wednesday showed Xi upbraiding Trudeau after details of a discussion between the two leaders were leaked to the media.

Trudeau had on Tuesday raised with Xi the issue of what he called Chinese “interference” with Canadian citizens after Ottawa in recent weeks accused Beijing of meddling with its democratic and judicial systems.

In the one-minute video clip recorded on the sidelines of the Indonesian summit, Xi tells Trudeau through an interpreter: “Everything we discussed has been leaked to the papers. That is not appropriate.”

Speaking evenly and wearing a slight smile, Xi says: “And that’s not the way (our discussion) was conducted, was it? “If there is sincerity, we can have conversations based on an attitude of mutual respect. Otherwise, the results will be unpredictable,” he adds, looking directly at Trudeau.

Xi then appears to try to walk past Trudeau, but the Canadian leader replies: “In Canada, we believe in free, open and frank dialogue, and that is what we will continue to have.

“We will continue to look to work constructively together, but there will be things we disagree on,” he tells Xi.

Raising his hands, Xi cuts him off, saying bluntly: “Create the conditions. Create the conditions.” He then broadens his smile, barely looking at Trudeau as he shakes his hand and leaves his counterpart to make his way out of the room.

It is not clear when, if ever, Xi becomes aware that the conversation is being filmed.

‘Awkward position’

The tone was akin to “a great power speaking to a less-great power”, said Van Jackson, senior lecturer in international relations at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

“Xi’s language and body posture was not at all unusual for government officials who are on less than friendly terms — in private,” Jackson told AFP.

Tensions between China and the United States put Canada in an “especially awkward position”, he said, adding that Ottawa’s “embeddedness in the network of Anglo-Saxon, intelligence-sharing democracies all but ensures it will draw China’s ire more and more as time passes”.

Xi’s Tuesday meeting with Trudeau was the first face-to-face dialogue between the two leaders since 2019.

State of relations with Canada is Ottawa’s responsibility, says China

Meanwhile, China’s foreign ministry on Thursday said the current state of relations between Beijing and Ottawa is Canada’s responsibility.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning also told a regular media briefing that Beijing supports having frank exchanges as long as they are held on an equal basis, and said China hopes that Canada will take actions that create conditions to improve bilateral ties.

Canadian federal police said last week they were investigating so-called police stations set up illegally by Beijing in the North American country.

Trudeau also said last week China was playing “aggressive games” after Canadian broadcaster Global News reported on a “clandestine network” of federal election candidates funded by Beijing.

Relations between the two countries plunged into the deep freeze when Canadian authorities arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in 2018 for allegedly flouting US sanctions on Iran.

Beijing later detained two Canadian citizens in China, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, in what critics called a tit-for-tat response.

Meng and the two Canadians were released last year after lengthy negotiations.

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