Prime Minister Justin Trudeau exchanged a cordial hello with China’s president Xi Jinping on Thursday at a summit in San Francisco, but has not yet had a formal meeting with him, according to a senior government source.
Trudeau has also yet to have a conversation on the sidelines with Xi at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation as the U.S. and China work to restore diplomatic dialogue.
Trudeau and Xi were positioned next to each other during the summit’s annual family photo. The prime minister was seen on camera acknowledging Xi with a nod.
When CBC News asked if Trudeau should try and pull Xi aside to talk, Canada’s Special Envoy to the Indo-Pacific, Ian McKay, said there would be opportunities for leaders to have conversations on the sidelines. He said it “would be a good thing” and that “they have a lot to discuss.”
“I think there’s a pathway forward,” said McKay, who is also Canada’s Ambassador to Japan.
“I think frankly that yesterday’s bilateral between President Biden and President Xi was a good signal not just to those two countries, but the entire region and in fact the whole world that perhaps there’s a reset in perspectives and a reset in a willingness to engage in more consistent, more broader, more realistic levels.”
“We’re very happy and very supportive of that.”
U.S. President Joe Biden emerged from a rare four-hour meeting on Wednesday with Xi touting that they had “some of the most constructive and productive conversations we’ve had.”
Biden said he reached an agreement with Xi on curbing fentanyl production and restarting military-to-military contact to try to avoid any miscommunications that could lead to a conflict. But after the carefully planned meeting, Biden upset China by calling him a dictator at the end of the press conference.
“He’s a dictator in the sense that he’s a guy who runs a country that is a communist country that’s based on a form of government totally different than ours,” said Biden.
China’s foreign ministry called it “extremely wrong and irresponsible political manipulation,” according to Reuters.
Tense exchange last year
The last time Trudeau spoke to Xi on the sidelines of G20 talks in Bali a year ago, a tense exchange unfolded.
Xi confronted Trudeau and criticized him over alleged leaks of their closed-door meeting. Since then, evidence of election interference from the Chinese Communist Party has led to the government launching a public inquiry.
Diplomats have also been expelled from both countries in a tit for tat.
There have been no signs publicly that Canada is trying to warm the Canada-China relationship at the summit.
A Canadian official on Tuesday said Canada’s approach to China wouldn’t change. Trudeau also said he would continue to collaborate with China on issues like climate change and challenge Beijing on issues such as human rights.
Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., Kirsten Hillman, said she is not aware of Canada asking Biden to bring up any issues with Xi on its behalf.
“Canada is raising its own issues as we see fit with partners,” Hillman said.
Hillman called the Biden and Xi meeting “an accomplishment.”
“As a diplomat I always think it’s important for for countries to be talking to each other,” she said. “We do engage with the Chinese at senior officials levels and there are other discussions no doubt that will flow.”
China’s embassy wouldn’t say if Xi planned to have a conversation with Trudeau at the summit. When asked by CBC News if China is working on its relationship with Canada like it is with the U.S., an embassy spokesperson said, “China attaches importance to its relationship with Canada.”
“We hope the Canadian side will work with the Chinese side, and, in a spirit of mutual respect and seeking common ground, do more to enhance mutual trust and cooperation,” wrote Liu Pengyu with the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the U.S.
Jonathan Berkshire Miller, director of foreign affairs, national defence and national security at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, says it’s too politically risky for Canada “to sort of look soft on China” amid the interference inquiry.