China’s Xi Scolds Trudeau Over a Conversation Made Public
BALI, Indonesia — A brief scolding that the Chinese leader Xi Jinping gave to Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, at the end of a summit in Indonesia has offered a glimpse into Mr. Xi’s muscular style of personal diplomacy.
A short video caught by a news cameraman shows Mr. Xi smiling tightly as he spoke to Mr. Trudeau at a concluding reception for the Group of 20 meeting in Bali on Wednesday.
But the words that came out of Mr. Xi’s mouth were chilly.
Mr. Xi chided Mr. Trudeau, accusing him of leaking details of a brief conversation they had the previous day.
“Everything we discussed has been leaked to the paper. That’s not appropriate,” Mr. Xi says, speaking through a translator. Mr. Trudeau nods curtly. Mr. Xi shakes his head, telling Mr. Trudeau, “that’s not the way the conversation was conducted.”
Mr. Xi goes on to say that “sincerity” is needed for fruitful discussion. “Otherwise, the outcome will be hard to say,” he adds. But before his words can be fully translated, Mr. Trudeau responds.
“In Canada we believe in free and open and frank dialogue,” he says. Mr. Xi looks away, his wan smile has gone, as Mr. Trudeau adds: “We will continue to look to work constructively together, but there will be things we will disagree on.”
Mr. Xi has the final word before the two leaders move on: “Let’s create the conditions first.” After one brisk handshake, the men part ways.
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While Mr. Xi has a reputation as a swaggering strongman, his image is carefully managed, and the 40-second conversation offered an unusual peek into how he interacts with other leaders — and can be attentive to perceived slights.
The exchange came at the end of a summit where Mr. Xi has sought to steady China’s relations with the United States, Australia and other Western countries. Canada had not been included in Mr. Xi’s roster of formal meetings, possibly reflecting unhappiness with recent comments by Mr. Trudeau and the Canadian foreign minister, Mélanie Joly.
“Unfortunately we’re seeing that countries, state actors from around the world, whether it’s China or others, are continuing to play aggressive games with our institutions, with our democracies,” Mr. Trudeau said, after news reports that Chinese authorities had meddled in Canadian elections by secretly funding 11 candidates in the 2019 federal election.
In the absence of a formal meeting with Mr. Xi, Mr. Trudeau engaged him in a brief, unscheduled conversation at a reception on Tuesday. Canadian media later reported, citing the Canadian prime minister’s office, that Mr. Trudeau had discussed the war in Ukraine, other international issues, and reports about China’s election interference.
Mr. Xi’s accusation of a leak seemed to be about Canada disclosing details of that unplanned meeting, given that the Chinese government apparently had not prepared its own account.
At a news conference in Bali after the video began to circulate, Mr. Trudeau defended his approach to China.
“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,” he said, according to The Globe and Mail.
Mr. Trudeau’s relationship with Mr. Xi has deteriorated significantly since 2015, when Mr. Trudeau first took office vowing to improve Canada’s relationship with China. The prime minister’s trip to Turkey for the Group of 20 leaders’ summit that year was notable for the admiration he and Mr. Xi expressed for each other.
But Canada’s relationship with China fell apart in December 2018, when the Chinese government jailed Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, two Canadians in China, shortly after Canada had arrested Meng Wanzhou, a Chinese telecommunications executive, in Vancouver, British Columbia, at the request of the United States government.
Both Mr. Trudeau and senior members of his cabinet have increasingly criticized China publicly. The prime minister most recently took China to task following a report that at least 11 candidates in Canada’s last election had received secret, illegal funding from China.
Mélanie Joly, the foreign minister, recently called China an “increasingly disruptive global power” and warned Canadian companies about potential risks in doing business there.
Outside of the House of Commons in Ottawa, François Philippe Champagne, the industry minister, who has also recently criticized China, dismissed suggestions that Mr. Trudeau had been indiscreet.
“What I’m pleased about is the prime minister standing up for Canada,” he told reporters. “Canadians have all seen the prime minister standing up and saying what is unacceptable.”
David Mulroney, Canada’s ambassador to China from 2009 to 2012, said it appeared to him that Mr. Xi planned to dress down Mr. Trudeau within earshot of journalists’ microphones.
“It was designed to to be a rebuke and to be a public rebuke,”Mr. Mulroney said. “This was very much a lecture from an uncle to to a young boy.”
For Canadians, Mr. Mulroney said, “the first reaction might be: Well good for Trudeau for standing up.” But he added that he finds it disturbing that Mr. Trudeau was being dressed down just for speaking out against Chinese interference in Canadian elections.
The video of Mr. Xi’s encounter with Mr. Trudeau joins a short list of recordings that show the Chinese leader acting off-the-cuff. Another well-known video from 2009, when Mr. Xi was the vice president, showed him on a visit to Mexico, mocking foreign critics of China.
“Some foreigners with full bellies and nothing better to do engage in finger-pointing at us,” he said at a reception.
Ian Austen contributed reporting from Ottawa.