Chinese President Xi Jinping angrily confronted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the sidelines of the G20 summit Wednesday, complaining that Mr. Trudeau’s office had published details of a conversation between them.
The Prime Minister was notably left off a busy diplomatic schedule for the Chinese leader in Bali, Indonesia – an apparent snub, as Mr. Xi engaged in bilateral meetings with U.S. President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and French President Emmanuel Macron, among others.
Mr. Trudeau was able to grab a brief, unofficial aside with Mr. Xi on Tuesday afternoon, during which he raised concerns about alleged Chinese interference in Canadian elections and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to accounts Canadian officials provided to multiple media outlets. Beijing made no reference to their meeting, nor was it initially covered in state media.
In an exchange captured by a Canadian cameraman around 3 p.m. Wednesday, as the G20 summit was wrapping up, an unhappy-looking Mr. Xi confronted Mr. Trudeau, gesturing with his hand at the room.
“Everything we said has been leaked to the papers – that’s not appropriate,” Mr. Xi says, adding, “that’s not the way the conversation was conducted.
“If you are sincere, we should communicate with each other in a respectful manner, otherwise it will be hard to say what the result will be like,” he says as Mr. Trudeau nods, waiting for a translation.
Mr. Trudeau responds that he hopes the two sides can continue to “work constructively together,” adding, “In Canada, we believe in a free and open and frank dialogue,” to which Mr. Xi replies, “Let’s create the conditions first,” before shaking the Canadian leader’s hand and walking off.
Speaking to reporters later the same day, Mr. Trudeau said that “not every conversation is going to be easy.
“We know that China is an important global player in the economy and has a very big impact on events around the world,” he added. “Canada needs to be able to engage constructively and directly, while at the same time be there to challenge on human rights and values that matter to Canadians.”
Asked whether Canada was isolated among its allies in terms of relations with China, given the steps toward rapprochement taken by many other countries at the G20, Mr. Trudeau said there was a “clear consensus among the G7″ in how to approach Beijing.
While Chinese officials have become notorious under Mr. Xi for their aggressive language and “wolf warrior” diplomacy, the President is normally far more decorous, rarely straying off script. The last time Mr. Xi displayed anything resembling a fit of pique was as vice-president on a trip to Mexico, when he complained about Westerners “with full bellies” lecturing China.
Mr. Xi appears to be aware that he is being filmed as he lectures Mr. Trudeau, walking past the camera as he makes his exit.
After Wednesday’s exchange, the state-run Global Times published a report saying Mr. Trudeau had “taken the initiative to approach” Mr. Xi on Tuesday, “but the conversation between the two leaders was very short.” The paper added the two men briefly touched on North Korea, Ukraine and Canada-China relations, which it noted had been “encountering difficulties over the past few years.”
In Ottawa, Federal Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne was asked Wednesday about the awkward exchange, but said it was difficult to comment because he was not present for the encounter.
“What I saw, at least my take, is the Prime Minister speaking clearly and loudly about making sure that Canada’s interests are well registered by the Chinese leadership. That’s what I saw when I saw the image of the Prime Minister – is him making the case for Canada and saying what is unacceptable,” Mr. Champagne told journalists.
“What I am pleased about is the Prime Minister standing up, as he always does for Canada, and standing up for our position and saying that, as I have seen in the press report, he won’t tolerate these kinds of things.”
With a report from Ian Bailey in Ottawa