Bali, Indonesia — In a rare behind-the-scenes moment of diplomacy, Chinese President Xi Jinping criticized Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for sharing details of a conversation the two leaders had Tuesday on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, with the media.
“Everything we discuss has been leaked to the paper, that’s not appropriate,” Xi told Trudeau Wednesday through a translator, at the closing session of the G20.
Xi then added that there could be consequences for Trudeau — but he did not say what those might be. The translator did not convey this remark to the prime minister, but Global News confirmed the translation with three Mandarin speakers.
“It’s this last phrase which has a threatening aspect to it, the way it was phrased in Chinese,” said Charles Burton, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, who speaks Mandarin and previously worked at the Canadian embassy in China.
“He normally leaves those kinds of menacing statements to members of the foreign ministry who seem to specialize in this kind of thing.”
The phrase Xi used, Burton added, is the kind of thing “a mafia thug might say to someone to intimidate them.”
The comment from Xi translates to “or else,” or “I don’t know what the consequences will be” of Trudeau sharing the information about his conversation with the Chinese president, Burton said.
Two other fluent Mandarin speakers offered similar interpretations, suggesting Xi had said, “otherwise it is hard to say what will happen” and “otherwise, this outcome (or result), better not talk about it.”
Before that part of Xi’s comment was translated by the interpreter, Trudeau interrupted the translator, saying: “We believe in free and open and frank dialogue and that is what we will continue to have. We will continue to look to work constructively together but there will be things we will disagree on.”
After Trudeau replied, the two shook hands and went separate ways.
On Tuesday, a senior government source told Global News that Trudeau raised the war in Ukraine, North Korea and alleged Chinese interference in Canadian elections with Xi when they spoke for roughly 10 minutes.
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly also confirmed that she discussed the same topics with her Chinese counterpart Tuesday with reporters.
The interaction comes on the heels of Global News reporting last week that Canadian intelligence officials had warned Trudeau that China has allegedly been targeting Canada with a vast campaign of foreign interference.
That campaign, officials added, allegedly included funding a clandestine network of at least 11 federal candidates running in the 2019 election.
It’s possible that Xi is angry about these allegations, Burton surmised.
“I think he’s angry about the suggestion that China has been interfering in Canadian internal affairs by funding illegally funding candidates for our parliament in the 2019 election,” he said.
“This is a very sensitive issue for China, because China consistently accuses the West of interfering in their affairs by raising the human rights issue. So it was a very unpleasant interaction.”