Trudeau seeks Trump back­ing in China dis­pute

The Prince George Citizen - - Money - Kristy KIRKUP

OT­TAWA — Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau will lean on the power and in­flu­ence of the mer­cu­rial Don­ald Trump to raise the is­sue of two de­tained Cana­di­ans dur­ing a bi­lat­eral meet­ing with the Chinese pres­i­dent at a G20 sum­mit in Ja­pan this week – some­thing the U.S. pres­i­dent pub­licly com­mit­ted to do­ing at “Justin’s re­quest.”

The sum­mit comes at a crit­i­cal mo­ment for Trudeau, just months ahead of the Oc­to­ber elec­tion and as Canada con­tin­ues to push for the re­lease of the Cana­di­ans in China – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

Canada is in mul­ti­ple trade-re­lated dis­putes with China as well. Tues­day, China sus­pended im­ports of Cana­dian meat on the grounds that its authoritie­s don’t trust Cana­dian as­sur­ances about the qual­ity of its ex­ports (see story, be­low). That broad­ened re­stric­tions on Cana­dian pork. China has also all but banned Cana­dian canola seeds on the grounds that pre­vi­ous ship­ments have con­tained pests. Ex­porters of peas and soy­beans have also had prob­lems.

Cana­dian ministers and of­fi­cials have had lit­tle luck get­ting to speak to their op­po­site num­bers in China.

Ear­lier this month in Nor­mandy, France, Trudeau said he was look­ing for­ward to at­tend­ing the G20 and that the “op­por­tu­nity to en­gage with the Chinese pres­i­dent di­rectly is cer­tainly some­thing that we are look­ing at.”

So far, how­ever, no such meet­ing has been con­firmed by the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice. Trudeau’s staff will only say they ex­pect to have in­for­ma­tion soon on which lead­ers Trudeau will meet in Osaka, where key themes in­clude the global econ­omy, trade and in­vest­ment and in­no­va­tion.

Trump pledged his sup­port dur­ing a meet­ing with Trudeau last Thurs­day in the Oval Of­fice, where the two lead­ers sat to­gether in bright yel­low arm­chairs and the pres­i­dent vowed to bring up the is­sue in a sit-down with Chinese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping.

“Are you try­ing to get a meet­ing?” Trump asked of Trudeau in re­sponse to a re­porter’s ques­tion, to which the prime min­is­ter replied: “We’ve got a lot of things to dis­cuss. ”

“Any­thing I can do to help Canada, I will be do­ing,” Trump said.

Trudeau needs that as­sis­tance.

The de­ten­tions of Kovrig and Spavor are largely viewed as re­tal­i­a­tion for the De­cem­ber ar­rest of Huawei ex­ec­u­tive Meng Wanzhou in Van­cou­ver, where she awaits ex­tra­di­tion to the U.S. to face al­le­ga­tions of fraud in vi­o­lat­ing Iran sanc­tions.

David Mul­roney, a for­mer Cana­dian ambassador to China, said it should not come as a sur­prise that China is not in­ter­ested in a meet­ing be­tween its pres­i­dent and the prime min­is­ter.

Trump will be Canada’s best shot to ad­dress the is­sue of the de­ten­tions, said Mul­roney.

“That would be the strong­est card that could be played in our in­ter­ests,” he said.

“It would be an Amer­i­can card played to say... ‘If you want a nor­mal re­la­tion­ship with us, you’ll leave our al­lies alone.”’

Mul­roney said he would also use the G20 to talk to other lead­ers who face sim­i­lar chal­lenges with China and are sus­cep­ti­ble to its bul­ly­ing.

“If we can build this sense of shared pur­pose in push­ing back against China, in not allowing our­selves to be iso­lated like this, that’s a big step for­ward,” he said.

“It is in Amer­ica’s in­ter­est and it is in the in­ter­est of a lot of other coun­tries to see China pull back from hostage diplo­macy and bul­ly­ing... The only way to counter that is through col­lec­tive ac­tion and that is a long, hard slog.”

Christo­pher Sands, the direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Cana­dian Stud­ies at John Hop­kins Univer­sity, said Canada doesn’t play of­fence very much but he agreed it would be ad­vis­able for Canada to talk to other lead­ers about the de­tained Cana­di­ans.

Be­yond ask­ing for Trump’s sup­port, coun­tries like Ja­pan, South Korea and per­haps In­dia might be will­ing to do the same, Sands said, adding that would only strengthen the U.S. pres­i­dent’s com­mit­ment to the cause.

To date, a list of coun­tries in­clud­ing Aus­tralia, France, Ger­man, Spain, the U.S. and the U.K. have spo­ken in sup­port of the de­tained Cana­di­ans.

Ro­hin­ton Med­hora, the pres­i­dent of the Cen­tre for In­ter­na­tional Gov­er­nance In­no­va­tion, said he will be watch­ing to see who else Xi meets in one-on-one ses­sions – called “bi­lat­er­als,” or just “bi­lats,” in diplo­matic cir­cles.

“Be­yond the Trump bi­lat, how many other bi­lats does he grant?” Med­hora said. “If it turns out that he has very few oth­ers, then I wouldn’t read that much into it. On the other hand, if he has half a dozen and Canada isn’t one of them, then I would read some­thing into that.”

The G20 is an op­por­tu­nity to show whether Canada is a player or not and its place in the world, Med­hora added.

“I would say the pres­sure (is on), es­pe­cially go­ing into an elec­tion when you have to demon­strate that Canada is bet­ter and dif­fer­ent than four years ago,” he said.

Con­ser­va­tive for­eign-af­fairs critic Erin O’Toole echoed that point, say­ing it is crit­i­cal Canada not let the op­por­tu­nity af­forded by the G20 pass, es­pe­cially given the up­com­ing elec­tion cam­paign.

“As of Septem­ber, the writ will drop,” he said. “This is re­ally the last ma­jor time to re­ally shake up and try to stop the spi­ral of the China re­la­tion­ship.”


Staff mem­bers stand near the em­blem of G20 2019 Ja­pan at the en­trance of the press cen­ter of G20 meet­ing in Fukuoka, Ja­pan.

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