Chinese President Xi Jinping chastised Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the G-20 summit on Wednesday for leaking details of a prior meeting during which Trudeau expressed concern about Chinese interference in domestic affairs.
The two had a brief encounter at an event in Indonesia that news outlets were able to record. A television camera was behind a Chinese interpreter in clear view as the two spoke.
“Everything we discussed has been leaked to the paper; that’s not appropriate,” Xi told Trudeau through the interpreter. “And that’s not ... the way the conversation was conducted, if there is sincerity on your part,” Xi said, at which point Trudeau interrupted and stepped toward Xi.
“In Canada, we believe in free and open and frank dialogue and that is what we will continue to have,” Trudeau said. “We will continue to look to work constructively together, but there will be things we will disagree on.”
Xi looked around as Trudeau replied.
“Let’s create the conditions first,” Xi responded through the interpreter.
The two shook hands after the brief encounter.
Trudeau first spoke with Xi at the G-20 last Tuesday. A senior Canadian government official said the two spoke about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, North Korea and climate change, and that Trudeau also raised “our serious concerns around interference activities in Canada.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
Asked later at a news conference about the confrontation, Trudeau said “not every conversation is always going to be easy, but it’s extremely important that we continue to stand up for the things that are important for Canadians.”
Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly also said she discussed Chinese interference with her Chinese counterpart at the G-20.
Joly remarked last week that China is an increasingly disruptive, global power and warned businesses against deepening their ties, saying there were “geopolitical risks.”
Canadian police charged a Hydro-Québec employee on Monday with espionage for allegedly sending trade secrets to China. And Beijing’s ties with Ottawa nosedived after Canadian authorities arrested a top executive from Chinese tech giant Huawei who had been charged with fraud by the U.S.
China jailed two Canadians shortly after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, Huawei Technologies’ chief financial officer and the daughter of the company’s founder, on a U.S. extradition request. They were sent back to Canada last year, the same day Meng returned to China after reaching a deal with U.S. authorities in her case.
Many countries labeled China’s action “hostage politics,” while China has described the charges against Huawei and Meng as a politically motivated attempt to hold back China’s economic and technological development.
Canada has banned wireless carriers from installing Huawei equipment in its high-speed 5G networks, joining allies in shunning the company that has close links with the ruling Communist Party and its military wing, the People’s Liberation Army.
Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said he thinks Xi purposely berated Trudeau in front of the camera.
“When you look at him, he is red in the face, he is moving his arms,” Saint-Jacques said. “He looks agitated. Clearly, he was not pleased with Trudeau for leaking to press the detail of the meeting. Interesting he said it’s not the way the meeting went.”
Saint-Jacques also noted that Xi’s translation was interrupted by Trudeau and that Xi looked annoyed by that.
“The prime minister wanted to reply and probably knew he wouldn’t have time, that after Xi delivered his tirade he would leave,” Saint-Jacques said. “It’s clear that Xi has not much regard for the prime minister. It shows it will be very difficult to restore limited dialogue with China.”
Saint-Jacques said Xi likely wanted to send a message to Trudeau that Canada won’t dictate the terms of the relationship and that Trudeau had better take notice.
The former ambassador said it was as if Xi was saying, “You have to smarten up if you want to maintain any kind of relationship with us.”
“It’s very unusual to see Xi Jinping engaging in this kind of public exercise to criticize someone,” Saint-Jacques added.