Chinese President Xi Jinping has chastised Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over alleged leaks of an earlier meeting at the G20 summit, in a rare public display of annoyance that was captured on camera.
In video footage published by Canadian broadcasters on Wednesday, Xi and Trudeau can be seen standing close to each other and conversing via a translator at the summit on the Indonesian island of Bali.
“Everything we discussed has been leaked to the paper; that’s not appropriate,” a smiling 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 towards the Chinese president.
“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 before smiling, shaking Trudeau’s hand and walking off.
Trudeau held talks with Xi, the first in more than three years, at the G20 summit on Tuesday, according to Canadian officials. Media reports said Trudeau had brought up “serious concerns” about alleged espionage and Chinese “interference” in Canadian elections during the discussion.
Asked later at a news conference about the exchange with Xi, 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”.
The video captured a rare candid moment for the Chinese president, whose image is carefully curated by Chinese state media.
The original meeting on Tuesday lasted for 10 minutes and was an informal chat on the sidelines of the summit, a Canadian government source told the Reuters news agency. China’s state-run Global Times said that the two leaders had a “very short” conversation at the summit’s opening ceremony.
“Trudeau expressed the hope to Xi that he would like to have the opportunity to talk about the Korean Peninsula, Ukraine, Canada-China relations, biodiversity and other issues while Xi responded that the key requirement for China-Canada relations is finding a common ground while managing the difference(s),” the newspaper reported in Thursday, citing an unnamed source.
Canada did not release an official readout from the meeting, but Trudeau did confirm the conversation and the points that he made to Xi at a news conference at the end of the G20.
Relations between the two countries were severely tested after the 2018 arrest in Canada of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a US extradition warrant, and the subsequent detention by China of Michael Spavor, a businessman, and Michael Kovrig, a regional expert with the International Crisis Group who were accused of spying. The two were freed in September last year after Meng was released.
Tensions between Canada and China have recently resurged.
On Monday, an employee at Canada’s largest electricity producer who was involved in researching battery materials was charged with espionage for allegedly trying to steal trade secrets to benefit China.
This month, Canada ordered three Chinese companies to divest their investments in Canadian critical minerals, citing national security.
Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, told the Associated Press news agency that Xi probably wanted to send a message to Trudeau that Canada will not be allowed to dictate the terms of the two nations’ 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 criticise someone,” Saint-Jacques added.