Liberals mum on chance of meeting China's Xi at G20, push to further isolate Russia

BALI, INDONESIA — The federal government won't say whether it asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is pressuring G20 leaders to further isolate Russia.

"Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine is creating food and energy crises. It’s disrupting supply chains and raising the cost of living," Trudeau told business leaders in a Monday speech in Bali, Indonesia.

"Families are worried that they’re not going to be able to put food on the table, or won’t be able to heat their homes during winter."

Trudeau was in Indonesia to meet with the leaders of the world's 20 largest economies. That includes Xi, who is making his first trip outside China since the COVID-19 pandemic started.

Xi met Monday with U.S. President Joe Biden, and has announced plans to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron.

China's Foreign Ministry said that between the G20 summit and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders' meeting in Thailand, Xi will also meet the leaders of Senegal and Argentina "among others, upon request."

Trudeau will be at both summits, yet when asked Sunday and Monday, Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly would not say whether they sought a meeting with Xi.

Instead, Joly said she will have a chance to speak with China's foreign minister, Wang Yi, as she did in July.

"It is important for Canada to continue to have these open channels with China, but at the same time, our stance is clear," she said Monday.

Last week, Joly said China is a threat to global stability by undermining human rights and trade rules. "We will co-operate with China when we must," she said.

The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa responded that the speech hurts Canada's interests by "creating division and fomenting confrontation in the region."

Canada's stance on Russia is also at odds with some other G20 states, which want to maintain ties in spite of the invasion of Ukraine. In recent months, China, India and South Africa have abstained from United Nations resolutions condemning Russia.

"My focus is going to be making sure that the world comes together to reinforce that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin made a terrible, terrible choice when he decided to invade a peaceful neighbouring country," Trudeau said Sunday.

As the summit host, Indonesia has asked leaders to focus on shoring up health systems and boosting food and energy security, and has stressed the importance of focusing on consensus instead of division.

Indonesia has reportedly asked G20 countries who have been vocal against Putin to tone down the rhetoric in order to forge consensus on other issues.

"Indonesia is between a rock and a hard place," Joly said.

"Canada's work is to always make sure that we can bring countries along; that we can find ways to address even difficult issues, and that's why we've been having many ongoing conversations with Indonesia."

On Monday, she announced $500 million for Ukraine's military, including surveillance and communications equipment, as well as fuel and medical supplies.

The half-billion dollars doubles the amount Ottawa announced in its budget this past spring.

"Our goal is to make sure that the troops in Ukraine on the ground have access to additional military support soon, and we'll have more details to provide in the coming days and weeks," Joly said.

She also announced new sanctions against 23 Russians whom Joly says have violated the human rights of opposition leaders.

The G20 summit comes as Canadian industry leaders seek deeper ties with Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country that has a soaring economy.

Canada and Indonesia have done two rounds of negotiations for a trade deal aimed at growing the $3.5 billion in annual bilateral trade.

In recent years, the exchange has been roughly equally split, with Canada predominantly selling grain, fertilizer, wood pulp and oilseeds, and buying Indonesian rubber, electrical equipment and apparel.

Relations between Ottawa and Jakarta have been relatively smooth, aside from disputes in the 1990s around human rights and tumult in East Timor. Canada played a key role in Indonesia securing its independence from the Netherlands in 1949, with Ottawa’s then-ambassador to the UN, the general Andrew McNaughton, helping to dislodge an impasse in negotiations.

Indonesia’s poverty rate has dropped to 9.78 per cent in 2020 from a quarter of the population at the turn of the millennium. Nearly two-thirds of the country's roughly 280 million people are of working age.

But COVID-19 slowed the economic boom and climate change threatens the world’s largest archipelago, with at least a third of the population at risk of natural disasters.

Indonesia is a key emitter of greenhouse gases, and Canada has pushed the government to better preserve its tropical forest and peatlands. Ottawa has argued that Indonesia's pursuit of economic development and burning of coal is threatening its extensive biodiversity.

While in Cambodia, Trudeau made announcements aimed at deeper ties with Southeast Asia as a counterbalance to China.

The prime minister's plane left Cambodia an hour and a half late on Monday, which his office said was due to issues clarifying the flight path. That delay postponed a planned meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

Trudeau did meet Monday with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and is set to also meet newly minted Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 14, 2022.

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press