MANILA, Philippines – He’s younger than the next youngest leader by six years and nearly a full generation behind the 60-year-old average age of his Pacific Rim peers.
Newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, 43, installed on a liberal agenda at odds with the authoritarian policies of some other Asia-Pacific leaders, brought a dash of vitality to an annual forum whose most concrete outcome is usually a photo op of mainly middle-aged men in funky shirts.
Tall and trim, Trudeau exudes the star power of his father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, whose charisma often drew comparisons to John F. Kennedy.
President Barack Obama praised him Thursday after they spoke on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Manila, saying Trudeau was a “great boost of energy” for Canadian politics.
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He also ribbed the fresh-faced Trudeau over how the responsibilities of leadership can age a person.
“The first call I made to him, I said: Justin, congratulations, you and your family look great, I know Canadians are incredibly inspired by your message of hope and change. I just want to point out that I had no grey hair when I was in your shoes seven years ago.
“And so if you don’t want to grey like me you need to start dyeing it soon,” Obama said.
Standing with Obama, Trudeau retorted: “So young, and yet so cynical.”
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Recently seen in Canada trick-or-treating with his wife and young children, Trudeau is 26 years younger than the Sultan of Brunei, at 69 the eldest of the 21 leaders of APEC, which is meeting in the Philippine capital this week.
On the tongue-in-cheek online “Hottest Heads of State List” Trudeau ranks second, at 34 per cent of votes, way behind the king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, who garnered 61 per cent support. But he was way ahead of the next most admired APEC leader, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who took only 3 per cent of the vote.
Trudeau’s appearances during his visit to Manila drew crowds. Would-be admirers sipped cocktails in the lobby of his hotel, waiting to see him walk by.
“Girls only have eyes for Trudeau, Nieto,” gushed a headline in the newspaper Philippine Inquirer.
“The Internet has found a reason to care about the APEC summit,” tweeted online publication GlobalPost, using “APEChottie” as a hashtag.
Asked what he thought of all the extra attention, Trudeau told a press conference that as the son of a politician, he learned early on to distinguish between his true self and the perceptions of others, both positive and negative.
“Throughout my life I have focused on what I have to do and the substance of what I’ve put forward and that has left me both grounded and able to focus regardless of perceptions or attention,” said Trudeau, whose father was swept into office by wave of “Trudeaumania.” Elected in 1968, he was Canada’s prime minister, with a short break, until 1984.
Sworn in two weeks ago, Trudeau is seeking to return Canada to its customary Liberalism, breaking with the ways of his predecessor, Conservative Stephen Harper.
He does support ratifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade agreement championed by Obama, and by Harper, that is meant to become the core of a region-wide free trade bloc. A final deal was struck last month after years of delays and now leaders must win approvals of their own governments for it to become a reality.
In his youth and liberalism, Trudeau has been likened to Obama, who at 54 is more than a decade older.
Mexico’s Nieto is 49. The leaders of Russia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Peru are all in their early to mid-50s. But the other Pacific Rim leaders are in their early 60s or older. Several, such as Chinese President Xi Jinping and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang, head communist, one-party states.
Though events like the annual Pacific Rim summit are staged in minute detail, the “informal” discussions gave the leaders further time to size up the new guy on the block, following the weekend meetings of the Group of 20 industrial nations in Turkey.
Declaring he intends to reclaim Canada’s “compassionate and constructive voice,” Trudeau said before he was elected that he intended to be “pushing back against the bully that is Vladimir Putin.”
Those comments drew remarks in local media about conflicting Canadian and Russian interests in the Arctic circle, and raised eyebrows among those imagining the younger leader challenging the stern Russian black belt in karate.
The two had a brief and apparently civil encounter in Turkey but did not meet in Manila since Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was representing Russia at APEC.
Associated Press writer Josh Lederman contributed.