Politics

Trudeau has 'brief, constructive interactions' with Chinese President Xi Jinping at G20

Canada is fortunate to have assembled a "broad international coalition" of countries who support Canada and believe arbitrary detentions are harmful, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Friday at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan.

Video footage showed Trudeau, Xi sitting beside each other

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chinese President Xi Jinping listen to opening remarks at a plenary session at the G20 summit. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Canada is fortunate to have assembled a "broad international coalition" of countries who support Canada and believe arbitrary detentions are harmful, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Friday at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan.

Freeland, who spoke to reporters alongside her cabinet colleague Finance Minister Bill Morneau, said China has been hearing about the detention of two Canadians from a range of countries, adding that efforts continue here at the summit.

The Prime Minister's Office said Trudeau had "brief, constructive interactions" with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the first day of meetings at the gathering of major economies.

Video footage from a working lunch on Friday showed the two leaders sitting beside each other but not interacting for several minutes while cameras were positioned on them. Trudeau could be seen making an effort to interact with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, located on his other side.

Trudeau and Xi greeted each other prior to the interaction in the footage, government officials said. And, after the working lunch, the two men briefly chatted away from the cameras.

Watch as the Chinese and Canadian leaders are seated together at the G20:

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chinese President Xi Jinping were seen on the first day of the G20 summit in Japan sitting together for a working lunch, but not interacting 0:59

Watch as Trudeau and Xi briefly interact after the awkward sit-down:

After the G20 leaders' working lunch, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chinese President Xi Jinping chatted — away from the cameras 0:31

Canada has been open for a long time to having conversations with China in addition to discussions unfolding at some diplomatic levels, Freeland said Friday, adding it remains "very, very open" to having conversations at the summit at higher level.

At present, communication has proved to be difficult because the Chinese have indicated they have no interest in speaking with senior officials including Freeland or Trudeau.

Trump meeting with Chinese leader

To try and get through to China, Canada is now relying heavily on the influence of U.S. President Donald Trump to raise the issue in his own bilateral meeting with the Chinese president on Saturday. The president committed to doing so following a meeting last week with Trudeau in Washington.

Freeland wouldn't speak to whether there was a specific ask of Trump going into the meeting, adding it is never prudent or appropriate to detail private meetings with partners.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Finance Minister Bill Morneau walk to a media availability at the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, on Friday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

"What I think is very clear and what has been discussed publicly by us, as well as the United States, is the partnership between Canada and the United States is very strong," she said.

In addition to having the backing of the U.S., the prime minister has been trying to establish heightened support as part of a strategy to encourage China to release two Canadians detained in China and to put an end to diplomatic tensions between the two countries.

The arrests of the detained Canadians is largely viewed as retaliation for the December arrest of Chinese high tech executive Meng Wanzhou.

Meng remains under house arrest in Vancouver, where she awaits extradition to the U.S. to face allegations of fraud in violating Iran sanctions.

It is important to see whether Trump does indeed raise the issue of the detentions, how he does that and whether it has any impact, said Thomas Bernes, a fellow with the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a research think-tank.

Trudeau attends a working lunch at the G20 summit in Osaka on Friday. (Kiyoshi Ota/AFP/Getty Images)

Canada is doing everything it can to energize other heads of government to make a point to the Chinese that this is not an acceptable way to behave, Bernes said, adding it is helpful and important to remind China there is a body of opinion among world leaders.

"Having said that, unfortunately, I don't expect any early resolution or fast action," he said.

"We can make the points as we want, we can ask others to make their points, but unless somebody is prepared to put something on the table besides words, I think we're not going to see very much action."

'Don't meddle in the election,' Trump jokes

Meanwhile, Trump held a bilaterial meeting with Russian President Vladmir Putin on the sidelines of the summit.

With a smirk and a finger point, Trump dryly told Putin "Don't meddle in the election" in their first meeting since the special counsel concluded that Moscow extensively interfered with the 2016 campaign.

The tone of the president's comment did little to silence questions about Trump's relationship with Russia in the aftermath of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's conclusion that he could not establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump's campaign and Russia.

The moment in Osaka echoed one of the most defining moments of Trump's presidency in Helsinki. There, he pointedly did not admonish Putin about election interference and did not side with U.S. intelligence agencies over his Russian counterpart.

Trump issued his quip when a reporter asked him if he would warn Putin not to meddle in the 2020 election.

"Of course," the U.S. president replied. Then he turned to Putin and facetiously said, "Don't meddle in the election." He playfully repeated the request while pointing at Putin, who laughed.

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, told reporters he enjoyed a 'very, very good relationship' with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Here, the two greet each other during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit on Friday. (Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin pool photo via The Associated Press)

Trump said he enjoyed a "very, very good relationship" with Putin and said "many positive things are going to come out of the relationship." The Kremlin says Putin has invited Trump to visit Russia next year to mark the 75th anniversary of the allied victory in the Second World War.

Putin has repeatedly dismissed the Mueller report's conclusion that Russia had systemically interfered in the 2016 U.S. election, telling the Financial Times earlier this week that it was "mythical interference."

Putin said that what really happened was that Trump saw changes in American society and took advantage of them.

With files from The Associated Press and CBC News

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