Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the Chinese government of “cleverly playing” Western nations and encouraged the democratic countries to respond to the threat with a united front.
Trudeau said the China-ruling Communist Party is leveraging its wealth to turn nations against each other and place political realities behind economic obligations.
“We’ve been competing and China has been from time to time very cleverly playing us off each other in an open market competitive way,” he told Canada’s Global News in an interview published Saturday.
“We need to do a better job of working together and standing strong so that China can’t, you know, play the angles and divide us one against the other,” the Canadian leader said.
He said Western nations should “show a united front” against China’s increasingly “coercive diplomacy.”
Relations between Beijing and Ottawa have deteriorated since Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou was detained in Canada in 2018 on a US extradition warrant.
In retaliation, China detained two Canadians – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – on national security charges.
The two were released in September after Meng, who was wanted on fraud charges, worked out a deal with US prosecutors.
Trudeau said as prime minister he wanted to do the right thing, but also acknowledged the “human cost.”
“These two Canadians were stuck in terrible conditions, totally arbitrarily, and there was at least a theoretical way of me taking shortcuts and backroom deals to get them home. But I knew and I felt that you had to do the right thing and we stayed the course on the right thing,” he said.
Trudeau, who has long advocated for better relations between Canada and China, sees the country in a different light because of that experience.
President Xi Jinping’s China is “no longer the China that we thought about 10 years ago or even five years ago in some ways,” he said.
“We have to be alert to that possibility, but also to that mind-frame that they have moving forward, which means there are things we’re going to continue to challenge China on – human rights, democracy in Hong Kong, supports for journalists, you know, non-interference in the goings-on of, you know, independent countries in Asia,” he said.
On some other issues, like combating climate change and trade, Canada will have to work with China – the world’s second largest economy.
“There are ways in which we’re going to have to compete with China, whether it’s on a commercial level, on trade deals, on goods and services – being thoughtful around that,” Trudeau said.
“And then there are ways we’re going to want to work with China and think about climate change, for example, where they are going to be a significant player if we’re going to be able to decarbonize our global economy. … So all these different nuances are going to continue,” he said.