Asked about the video at a news conference in Bali on Wednesday, Trudeau confirmed that he had raised the question of foreign interference with Xi.
“Not every conversation is always going to be easy, but it’s extremely important that we continue to stand up for the things that are important for Canadians,” he said. “This is something we always do, and we will continue to.”
Trudeau sidestepped a question about whether the confrontation was a “power play” by Xi.
Xi appears to be expressing “total contempt” for Trudeau in the video, Brian Lee Crowley, managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a think tank in Ottawa, told NBC News.
The Canadian prime minister “is desperately trying to be taken seriously by this man who won’t even look at him,” he said. “[Xi] keeps turning away from him, the body language is just terrible.”
But Trudeau was most likely speaking to a broader audience than just Xi, Crowley said, as he faces pressure to adopt a tougher line on China from anxious voters at home as well as the United States and other liberal democracies. “I don’t think it was a great success for Trudeau certainly in terms of domestic public opinion, but I’m sure it was noticed in Washington,” he said.
Tensions between Canada and China have grown recently over accusations that Beijing interfered in the country’s 2019 election. Last week, Trudeau said China and other state actors were playing “aggressive games” to undermine democratic institutions, while Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly described China as an “increasingly disruptive global power.”
While Trudeau and Xi were at the G-20 summit, an employee at Hydro-Québec, Canada’s largest electricity producer, was arrested on suspicion of spying for China. Early this month, the Canadian government ordered three Chinese companies to divest from critical minerals in the country, citing national security concerns.
Canadian police are also investigating allegations that Chinese officials have set up secret “police stations” in the Toronto area as part of an operation against Chinese dissidents overseas. Beijing says the foreign outposts are service centers that help Chinese nationals living abroad renew their driver’s licenses, among other things.
Among the most damaging blows to Canada-China relations in recent years was the 2018 arrest in China of two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, after Canadian officials arrested Chinese tech executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of U.S. authorities seeking her extradition. Kovrig and Spavor were detained for more than 1,000 days on spying charges before being released in September 2021, just as Meng was allowed to return to China.
Though Xi had bilateral meetings at the G-20 summit with President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, he did not have such a meeting with Trudeau.
Jace Zhang contributed.