After more than two years without leaving his country, Chinese President Xi Jinping isn’t missing the chance for in-person diplomacy as he joins other world leaders at the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, this week.
Mr. Xi had a highly anticipated meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday, and will meet with the leaders of Australia and Japan, as well as Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
Not on the official meeting list, however, is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The Canadian Press has reported that Mr. Trudeau spoke with Mr. Xi on Tuesday and that Mr. Trudeau’s office said he raised concerns about Chinese interference in Canada after reports of what are effectively Chinese police stations operating in Canada.
“Canada is still in the deep freeze,” said Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.
Relations remain frayed since the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver and Beijing’s subsequent jailing of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, she said, despite the release of Ms. Meng from house arrest and the two Canadians from prison.
“At the same time, with the emerging Indo-Pacific strategy, Prime Minister Trudeau has clearly picked a side and it’s not China,” Ms. McCuaig-Johnston added. “So a meeting with Xi would not be in keeping with the new direction Trudeau is signalling.”
Last week, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said the long-awaited strategy, to be unveiled in December, would name China as an increasingly disruptive global power – a reversal of the government’s previous policy of trying to avoid confrontation with the world’s second-largest economy.
She added that Ottawa would be vocal about China’s brutal treatment of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in the Xinjiang region, “where credible accounts of human-rights abuses and crimes against humanity are well-documented.” Parliament – though not the government – declared the situation in Xinjiang a genocide in 2021, much to Beijing’s displeasure.
Officials in Ottawa have expressed hope that the strategy will bring some clarity to Canada’s approach to China, which has been criticized as disorganized and directionless, with cabinet officials sometimes appearing to contradict each other on how to deal with Beijing.
“The China of 1970 is not the China of today,” Ms. Joly said in a speech last week, referring to a time when relations were more cordial during the tenure of Mr. Trudeau’s father as prime minister.
A harder line by Ottawa would likely be met in kind by Beijing. Chinese state media and government officials are often highly critical of Canada, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian accusing Ms. Joly of “ideological bias” after her remarks last week.
An editorial in the state-run Global Times said Canada’s approach was “disappointing and regrettable.”
“For quite a long time, Canada has played a relatively mild role in international politics,” the paper said. “The strategic posturing of keeping a distance from geopolitics and supporting free trade and multilateralism can best reflect Canada’s values and safeguard its interests. Once detached from it, Canada will encounter risks and pay a price.”
Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said he would not have been surprised if there had been “informal soundings” from Ottawa about a potential meeting between Mr. Xi and Mr. Trudeau.
But given Ms. Joly’s comments and Ottawa’s ordering of Chinese state-owned enterprises to disinvest in Canadian mineral companies, “Xi was not going to reward Trudeau with a meeting.”
The best Canada can hope for is likely an informal meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers, he said, “which I would take as a good sign.”
One frequent Chinese criticism of Canada is that it hews too closely to Washington’s direction. But after an apparently successful meeting between Mr. Xi and Mr. Biden on Monday, Ottawa may find itself in the same position as Canberra once was, being punished for following a U.S. position even as Beijing continues to engage with the White House.
During the Donald Trump administration, then-Australian prime minister Scott Morrison was among the most enthusiastic allies of the U.S. in cracking down on Huawei and calling for an investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Canberra soon found out that there was criticism Beijing was willing to tolerate from a global superpower that it would not brook from a smaller country, hitting Australia with tariffs and cutting ties even as it continued trade negotiations with Washington.
The damage to that relationship is only just now being repaired, with current leader Anthony Albanese saying he looked forward “to having a constructive discussion with President Xi” at the G20 on Tuesday. The Australian Prime Minister had a brief talk with Premier Li Keqiang over the weekend.
In their meeting this week, both Mr. Xi and Mr. Biden said nothing could compare with in-person discussions when it came to diplomacy.