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1983: Pierre Trudeau’s peace mission reaches China

The Story


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.

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Nov. 28, 1983
Host: Knowlton Nash
Reporter: David Halton
Duration: 2:37

Did You know?


• "Peking" is the name the city of Beijing was known as in English until the 1980s. 

• Pierre Trudeau was one of the first Western politicians to recognize communist governments and visit China after the Cold War.

• 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."


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