Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke face to face on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia, on Tuesday.
In the brief discussion between the two leaders, who have been at odds over trade and the arrest and detainment of two Canadians, Trudeau raised concerns about media reports that China covertly funded 11 candidates in the 2019 federal election.
The pair can be seen speaking informally in a crowded room in a photograph released by the Prime Minister’s Office to mark the meeting.
A readout of the side discussion released by the PMO said the two leaders also discussed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and North Korea’s continued aggression against South Korea.
The PMO says that Trudeau also pressed Xi on the importance of the upcoming COP15 summit in Montréal and that country’s role in the fight against climate change.
The readout does not say how Xi reacted to any of these issues, only that the two leaders “discussed the importance of continued dialogue.”
Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly also met with her Chinese counterpart at the summit.
The PMO did not detail Xi’s reaction to Trudeau raising the issue of Ukraine, but John Kirton, director of the G20 Research Group at the University of Toronto, told CBC News there are signs Xi wants to engage on Ukraine, and does not support an escalation of the conflict.
Xi “has taken a big tilt to join the democracies to help stop an escalation… [and] to bring [the war in Ukraine] to a just conclusion in the coming months,” Kirton said.
Managing Canada-China relations
Andrew Cooper, a professor with the Balsillie School of International Affairs at the University of Waterloo, told The Canadian Press that Canada could be following the same pattern Australia faced a decade ago, when it was isolated by China but gradually found areas of consensus with Beijing while forming stronger ties with other countries in Asia.
“Canada’s been in the penalty box for a few years now,” he said.
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Acknowledging that the Chinese Communist Party recently extended Xi’s mandate to govern for another five years, Cooper said, “This is a very different China. President Xi is in a consolidated position. If he’s not the new Mao, he’s certainly in a position where he can be a central figure that can work in a way that we didn’t anticipate when the G20 was created.”
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce said the Liberals are taking a practical approach to dealing with China, by saying it will help inform businesses of the risks of working in China and let them decide whether to do so.
“You need to work with China on issues like climate change, but also we have to recognize that China’s a strategic rival, and they don’t play by the same rules as everybody else,” the group’s CEO, Perrin Beatty, told reporters in Bali.
He also said Ottawa needs to outline its trade priorities in Asia.
“We need to be strategic. [The plan] needs to be holistic; it needs to be well-communicated, so people know what the policy is,” Beatty said.
He added that Canadian business needs assistance to take advantage of the numerous trade agreements Ottawa has signed and is currently negotiating.
“The three Fs — food, fuel, fertilizer — Canada has in bundles. And what’s needed now is a clear strategy on the part of Canada to put those resources to work and to ensure that we’re able to actually deliver those commodities to the rest of the world,” he said.
Beatty also said Canada should do “a full post-mortem” of supply chain shocks during the COVID-19 pandemic, and figure out whether to warehouse critical goods in Canada, and to what extent Canada should limit trade to friendly countries.
Trudeau announces $750 for infrastructure, vaccines
While at the G20 summit, Trudeau also announced $750 million in funding to help developing countries improve their infrastructure and make COVID-19 vaccines. The deal would see a Crown corporation finance infrastructure projects in Asia over three years, starting next March.
It’s the largest chunk of the forthcoming Indo-Pacific strategy that the Liberals have announced so far, and part of a G20 project meant to help low- and middle-income countries have safer and more sustainable cities.
“It will also make our supply chains stronger and create good jobs,” Trudeau said in remarks prepared for a closed-door event hosted by Indonesia, the U.S. and the European Union.
The funding will be administered by FinDev Canada, which currently has a mandate to operate in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. It will now also help fund projects in developing countries in Asia.
Trudeau told leaders that sovereign wealth funds can help governments abroad build schools and hospitals.
“If we want to close the infrastructure gap, we need to continue finding ways to incentivize greater private sector investment. No amount of public money can single-handedly fix this issue,” the prime minister’s remarks read.
Trudeau is also announcing $80 million for global health systems, with most of the funding going to a World Bank project that helps countries prevent pandemics and respond to them.
Russia and Ukraine
Geopolitics will likely overshadow the pledges leaders make at the summit, as countries debate how to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s growing assertiveness.
Canada is among the most forceful of countries pushing for G20 leaders to censure Russia for worsening inflation and global security as a result of its war in Ukraine. Other countries have held back from calling Russia out, in an attempt to maintain good relations with both Moscow and the West.
As summit host, Indonesia has urged countries to focus on finding common ground, to make sure there is some statement of consensus when the summit closes Wednesday.
“We can see that they’re going through conniptions, trying to kind of get a declaration to save them from the embarrassment of not having a communique. So this is going to be very tricky,” said Cooper at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, who studies G20 summits.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s Office says Trudeau had to intervene at a closed-door G20 health forum Tuesday after Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed American biolabs were undertaking nefarious activities in Ukraine.
Trudeau’s office says he told his peers that the claims were “absolute garbage” and that leaders must work with facts.