China’s foreign ministry on Thursday said Chinese President Xi Jinping was not criticising Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after Xi was seen confronting him at the G20 summit over alleged leaks from an informal meeting they had held on Tuesday.
Beijing supports having frank exchanges as long as they are held on an equal basis, and China hopes Canada will take action to improve bilateral ties, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said during a regular media briefing.
“The video you mentioned was indeed a short conversation both leaders held during the G20 summit. This is very normal. I don’t think it should be interpreted as Chairman Xi criticising or accusing anyone,” Mao said.
In video footage published by Canadian broadcasters on Wednesday, a translator for Xi can be heard in the video telling Trudeau that “everything we discussed was leaked to the paper(s), that’s not appropriate.”
Xi himself can be heard saying, in Mandarin, “that is not appropriate, and we didn’t do it that way.”
Xi then goes on to say “if there is sincerity, we can communicate well with mutual respect, otherwise the outcome will not be easy to tell.” Mao said this was not a threat, as both leaders were engaging in a “normal” exchange and merely “expressing their respective positions”.
Mao did not answer a question from Reuters on why the meeting on Wednesday was set up, and what Xi meant when he said “that is not appropriate, and we didn’t do it that way.”
The video captured a rare candid moment for Xi, whose image is carefully curated by Chinese state media.
Xi’s displeasure was possibly due to media reports, citing a government source, that said Trudeau brought up “serious concerns” about alleged espionage and Chinese “interference” in Canadian elections when meeting with Xi on Tuesday, Trudeau’s first talks with the Chinese leader in more than three years.
Trudeau confirmed the conversation with Xi, and what the Canadian source had said were the topics of discussion, at a news conference at the end of the G20, after Xi had confronted him.
“Canada trusts its citizens with information about the conversations that we have in their name as a government,” Trudeau said, according to a transcript of the news conference.
The candid exchange follows years of diplomatic tensions between China and Canada, which were triggered by the arrest of Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou in 2018 on behalf of the United States, and Beijing’s subsequent arrest of two Canadians on spying charges.
That standoff ended last year, but now Canada is poised to announce an Indo-Pacific strategy similar to one put forward by U.S. President Joe Biden earlier this year to counter China’s rising influence in the region.
Canada’s strategy is largely to align with the United States by using trade, economic support, diplomacy and military assets to bolster partnerships in the region, while at the same time engaging with China on issues like climate change.
Furthermore, Trudeau’s finance and industry ministers recently delivered major speeches in Washington where they pitched Canada as a future alternative supplier of key products, like critical minerals and battery materials, which are markets now dominated by China.