Canada caught between giants, incommunicado tables turn
EDITOR’S NOTE – Clarification: Trudeau spoke briefly with Trump on June 29, 2018 to express condolences for victims of the Maryland newspaper shooting, and that he “had no choice but to announce reciprocal countermeasures to the steel and aluminum tariffs that the United States imposed on June 1, 2018.” Trudeau then met with the U.S. president at the July 11, 2018 NATO Summit in Belgium, their first-to-face encounter since Charlevoix G7. An original version of this story indicated the men had not spoken at all between June 9, 2018 (Charlevoix) and August 27, 2018. While this is regrettable as we strive for accuracy, The Post Millennial stands by the reporting that events at G7 frayed relations between the two leaders and substantive, bilateral discussions between the pair were limited during this period.
As China’s leadership refuses to take a phone call from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who got barely two minutes with President Xi Jinping at the G20 in Japan last week, this time last year Trudeau was similarly incommunicado with our closest ally, the United States.
According to a pair of redacted briefing notes for Trudeau, obtained through Access-to-Information, after U.S. President Donald Trump punctuated G7 in Charlevoix by blasting Trudeau on Twitter for duplicity, it would be nearly three months before the two men engaged in pre-arranged, bilateral discussions.
This was while Canada was in the throes of a trade war with the United States sparked by Trump’s steel tariffs, and at the same time attempting to hash out a new free trade deal to replace NAFTA.
In the June 9, 2018 tweets heard around the world, Trump called the PM “meek and mild” during face-to-face dealings in Charlevoix, then “weak and dishonest” after POTUS departed.
“Canadians are polite, we’re reasonable, but we also will not be pushed around,” Trudeau told international media at the summit’s close, while Trump was aboard Air Force One en route to Singapore for his much-anticipated meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
Trump retaliated by rescinding his endorsement of the joint G7 statement and doubled down three days later in Singapore, suggesting Trudeau was dopey for talking tough out of earshot.
“Justin didn’t know Air Force One has 20 televisions,” said Trump, while his trade pitbull Peter Navarro continued the spat stateside on CNN declaring “there’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader who engages in bad faith.”
Whether negotiating tactic or just another day for the most mercurial U.S. administration in history, Canada was on its heels as Trump threatened to scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement altogether if he did not get his way.
In either set of briefing notes, Trump’s friendship with former PM Brian Mulroney was Foreign Affairs’ top line for Trudeau, followed by a meeting between Trump and Trudeau’s late father, an attempt to play on POTUS’ paternal instincts.
“He counts former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney among his friends,” reads either brief, under the heading Canadian Connection. “He also met with your late father in November 1981 at New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel, where your father had come to accept the Family of Man award.”
The notes for the two subsequent calls taken together – Last Interaction section, ‘Phone call on August 27, 2018’ and the first brief’s Last Interaction: You last spoke on June 9 at the G7 Summit’ – reveals 78 days of radio silence between Trudeau and Trump, while contentious free trade negotiations continued.
Long before Foreign Affairs produced the briefs for Trudeau, it had been widely reported that Mulroney was helping the current Liberal government in dealing with Trump on the trade file. The pair are neighbours in Palm Beach Florida, location of Trump’s private resort Mar-a-Lago.
Eighteen months previous, Mulroney even performed “Irish Eyes Are Smiling” for Trump at a gala fundraiser held at the resort – an encore performance of his original 1985 cut, a duet with President Ronald Reagan three years before inking NAFTA.
A lot can change in a year and did, particularly that Trudeau is now asking Trump for favours rather than relying on go-between, semi-retired statesmen to work behind the scenes.
Following a relatively successful trip to Washington D.C. two weeks ago in the lead up to G20, acrimony between the United States and Canada and by extension, Trump and Trudeau, appears to be receding, and for similar domestic purposes.
Trump benefited from Trudeau’s charm offensive; he also met with Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who holds the Congress ratification cards for NAFTA’s replacement, United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. And Trudeau needed to look statesmanlike with our closest ally heading into a fall federal election.
Looking outside of North America, Canada finds itself caught between two economic giants in another trade war that has global security implications.
At the Oval Office on June 20, Trump told Trudeau that the United States would do “anything” it could to pressure China to release Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
The pair were detained and accused of espionage at the end of last year in a tit-for-tat diplomatic battle over pending U.S. extradition of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, which has since produced a Chinese embargo on Canadian canola and meat.
Meng was arrested in December last year during a transit through Vancouver International Airport.
Huawei’s chief financial officer remains under house arrest in Vancouver. If extradited, Meng would face fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy charges – alleged crimes related to Huawei subsidiary Skycom Tech Co., which conducted business in Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.
According to the briefing notes’ ‘Talking Points’, China does not factor into the equation for Trudeau, although much of the sensitive diplomatic matters have been redacted.
What is of interest, given Meng’s current circumstances, is that Iran features in the second call’s unredacted ‘Talking Points’.
“(Canada) share(s) view that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, goal of curbing its disruptive regional policies and concerns over human rights,” reads the brief.
Trump’s decision to walk away from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran nuclear deal, and reimpose sanctions on the Islamic regime, ultimately precipitated the current diplomatic conflagration.
Canada cut official ties with Iran in 2012. But following culmination of plan to halt the regime’s uranium enrichment program led by then-U.S. President Barack Obama, less than a year later then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion lifted most Canadian sanctions against the regime, apart from military hardware.
Adding to the complexity of relations between China, Canada and the United States is Huawei’s 5G technology that Trump has given mixed signals about.
Previously, the U.S. president said he would ban it entirely from American cell networks, but during his visit England earlier in June, intimated the matter could form part of trade negotiations with China. Trump has also suggested several times that Meng’s fate could hinge on a overarching trade deal with China.
In November of last year the United States asked that its “Five Eyes” allies – UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – ban Huawei’s 5G hardware from their domestic telecommunication networks.
Austrailia and New Zealand have since agreed. Britain may also abandon its 5G telecom deal with the Chinese company, but like Canada it is studying the matter and no decisions have been made.
At the G20 in Osaka, Japan last Friday, Trudeau and Chinese President Xi chatted for a couple minutes where the PM said he brought up the issue of Canadian detainees. This occurred following an award lunch meeting where Trudeau and Xi ignored each other while seated side-by-side.
In addition to their brief talk before a cultural event at G20 (captured by CBC below), Trudeau said he was “confident” that Trump also raised the matter with Xi during U.S.-China bilateral talks.
On Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang relayed a message to the Trudeau government at a G20 briefing in Beijing.
“We hope that the Canadian side will not be too naive…(They) shouldn’t naively think that gathering so-called allies to put pressure on China will work,” said Shuang. “What they are doing at most is lip service, because after all it is a matter between China and Canada.”