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World Trudeau, Tillerson meeting this month to discuss North Korea threat

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers a speech at the Fortune Global Forum in Guangzhou, China, on Dec. 6, 2017.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the next two weeks to begin mapping out a strategy for dealing with North Korea's growing nuclear threat, says a senior U.S. diplomat.

Canada and the United States are preparing to co-host a meeting early in 2018 that will bring together foreign ministers from a host of countries to discuss whether a diplomatic solution can be found for North Korea, which has been steadily expanding the range of its ballistic missile technology.

The rogue North Korean state launched its most powerful intercontinental missile last week, which was capable of reaching targets as far away as 13,000 kilometres, putting Washington and some Canadian cities within striking distance.

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Read also: How Canada can help solve the North Korea crisis

Pyongyang's tests, however, employ dummy warheads and experts caution a genuine nuclear payload would be significantly heavier and cut the distance that could be flown.

On Wednesday, Terry Branstad, the U.S. ambassador to China, revealed the Trudeau-Tillerson meeting during a gathering of business elite at the Fortune Global Forum in Guangzhou, China. He said it would take place Dec. 19.

Mr. Trudeau is in Guangzhou to promote doing business with Canada at the forum, which is a get-together of wealthy and powerful people similar to the annual summit in Davos, Switzerland.

The Canadian Prime Minister's Office said that Mr. Branstad and Mr. Trudeau met briefly Wednesday.

Mr. Trudeau used his speech in Guangzhou to attack growing protectionism around the world. He didn't mention U.S. President Donald Trump, who poses a threat to the health of Canada's economy because of his continued threat to tear up the North American free-trade agreement that gives Canadian firms preferential access to the U.S. market.

Mr. Trudeau warned the world is at a "pivot point" right now where countries can either embrace open relations or balkanize into separate blocs.

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"We are at a pivot point in the world right now, where we decide whether we work together in an open and confident way and succeed or whether we all falter separately and isolated," the Prime Minister told the Fortune Global Forum. This warning from Mr. Trudeau was not part of his scripted comments that had been released to media ahead of time.

"As that anxiety spreads, people start to turn inwards. They start to close off. They start to get fearful," he added. "If that continues to happen, make no mistake about it, we will all lose."

Mr. Trudeau lauded China as a defender of liberalized trade, saying Canada and China "share the belief that more openness and more collaboration is the right way forward."

His characterization of China as a proponent of unfettering trade is remarkable because it's contradicted by China's record. In fact, under President Xi Jinping, the state has taken an increasingly active role in the economy and has helped bankroll a global buying spree by Chinese corporations, including in sectors that Beijing forbids foreigners from buying in its own backyard.

According to a survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in China, 81 per cent of U.S. firms doing business in China reported feeling less welcome in 2016 than they did in 2015.

The early 2018 North Korea meeting will take place in Canada. Canadian officials have said the point of the meeting would be to assess whether a diplomatic route exists to resolve the Korean crisis, even as talk of war escalates. This get-together would not include officials from North Korea.

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Despite the increasing danger from North Korea, the Trudeau government remains mum on whether it's now time for Canada to join the U.S. missile-defence program, something the opposition Conservative Party has been demanding.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told The Globe and Mail recently that it is still unclear whether the Hwasong-15 missile, carrying a superheavy nuclear warhead, could survive atmospheric re-entry and hit a target in North America.

"We don't know for sure what the capacities and what the possibilities are. There are questions about what the weight of a nuclear warhead does to the trajectory of missiles," she told The Globe and Mail's editorial board Dec. 1.

"We definitely know enough that we need to be very concerned about North Korea's ballistics and nuclear missile testing."

Ms. Freeland did not answer directly when asked whether Canada will join the U.S. missile-defence shield or whether the Trudeau government assumes that the Americans would protect Canada as part of the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD).

In September, Canada's deputy commander of NORAD, Lieutenant-General Pierre St-Amand, revealed that the current U.S. policy is not to intervene in the event of a ballistic-missile attack on Canada.

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Ms. Freeland wouldn't say what defensive and emergency safety operations are in place to protect Canadians in the event North Korea launches a nuclear warhead at North America, a capability experts say may be possible early next year.

The United Nations has already imposed harsh sanctions on North Korea, and even China's urging for Pyongyang to pull back on its ballistic-missile testing has failed to persuade the regime to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

Late last month, Prime Minister Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa could possibly work with Cuba, which has full diplomatic relations with North Korea while Canada does not, to find a diplomatic solution.

Mr. Trudeau said Canada could "pass along messages through surprising conduits" but the Foreign Affairs Minister said Cuba is not acting as a conduit for Canada and provided no other details.

Ms. Freeland was unclear about what role Cuba is playing behind the scenes in defusing the standoff.

"Cuba is a country that Canada has good relations with and so we have conversations," she said. "That is all I am going to say about our conversations."

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North Korea has conducted dozens of ballistic missile tests under its leader, Kim Jong-un, in defiance of UN sanctions. Mr. Trump has vowed not to let North Korea develop nuclear missiles that can hit the mainland United States.

North Korea has said its weapons programs are a necessary defence against U.S. plans to invade the country. The United States, which has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, denies any such intention.

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