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1983: Trudeau on Peking peace mission

Canada has enjoyed a reputation for diplomacy ever since Lester B. Pearson came up with a novel solution – peacekeepers – for the Suez Crisis in 1956. We've also been recognized for our involvement in human rights issues, nuclear disarmament, and the International Criminal Court. But have our efforts made for a more peaceful world, or is the image of the "good diplomat" a convenient holdover from the days when Canada actually made a difference?

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Astounded onlookers watch Canada's prime minister ascend the steps of China's Great Hall of Leaders on Nov. 28, 1983. The visit had been kept under wraps. Even the Peking papers haven't written much about Pierre Elliott Trudeau's meeting with Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang. The two world power figures discuss nuclear disarmament over ornamental pots of Chinese tea. This is not Prime Minister Trudeau's first visit to China.

Trudeau travelled there in October 1973 after the Canadian government officially recognized the communist country, opening diplomatic relations between the two nations. He had been continuing the initiative started by his successor Liberal Senate Leader Paul Martin of recognizing communist states, something Western powers have avoided since the beginning of the Cold War.

Over tea Ziyang welcomes the spirit behind Trudeau's peace initiative, part of a larger mission where he'll visit various world leaders attempting to ease tensions between the superpowers and their allies over the next year. But when the meeting continues at a banquet dinner, the Chinese premier becomes more skeptical. The Chinese worry about missiles sitting along the Soviet Border. In this news report, Trudeau explains why the Chinese premier won't budge on foreign policy.
• Trudeau was one of the first Western politicians to recognize communist governments and visit China after the Cold War.

• The Cold War refers to frozen U.S.-Soviet Union negotiations in the decades following the Second World War, but especially between 1947 and '53. During that time, the two superpowers and their allies battled each other's threats and hostile propaganda campaigns. Western governments were reluctant to accept Eastern communist rule.

• Igor Gouzenko's intelligence about a Russian spy ring fueled Canada's Cold War position.

• The Cold War's symbolic end was with the 1990 fall of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall.

• In 1977, Trudeau presented a "strategy of suffocation" to the United Nations. It included an end to nuclear material production, a ban on nuclear weapons' testing and a reduction in defence spending.

• After Trudeau's death, one of his ambassadors to the Soviet Union, Geoffrey Pearson, said the former prime minister's foreign policy wasn't adequately portrayed in his obituaries. Besides Trudeau's opposition to American foreign policy, Pearson pointed out that he had negotiated disarmament with world leaders and deterred Canada from amassing nuclear weapons.

• Trudeau's visits ended with an unproductive one between the Canadian prime minister and U.S. President Ronald Reagan. An angry exchange between the two leaders was recorded on June 11, 1984 in the International Herald Tribune: "Damn it, Pierre, we've offered them everything. What more can I do to get them back to the table?" Reagan said. Trudeau responded, "For heaven's sake, Ron, do a bit more."
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Nov. 28, 1983
Host: Knowlton Nash
Reporter: David Halton
Duration: 2:37

Last updated: October 22, 2014

Page consulted on December 2, 2014

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