Biden will restore multilateralism — but don’t expect a return to ‘some idealized past’: Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today U.S. president-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration will deliver progress on important international challenges like climate change and global stability — but warns that a return to pre-Donald Trump politics in the United States is not likely to happen soon.

“Leadership obviously matters, but there are lots of domestic pressures that he’s going to be facing,” Trudeau told a virtual meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) forum. “Anyone expecting a sudden, massive, rapid shift to the way things were in some idealized past, I don’t think anyone can meet those expectations.

“There’s going to be a lot of work for all of us to do, to try and move the world forward in the right direction. And yes, I’m sure that president-elect Biden is going to be a powerful ally in that. But we cannot expect to sit back and just say, ‘OK, bigger countries are going to do the heavy lifting.'”

Trudeau, China’s President Xi Jinping and other leaders from around the Pacific Rim will take part in virtual talks about trade on Friday.

The prime minister said Biden has been saying all the right things on multilateralism, the rules-based international order and the fight to slow climate change, but Canada is going to have to step up and do its part.

Trudeau was asked today if he regrets the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, B.C. on a U.S. extradition request in December of 2018.

Shortly after that arrest, Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were detained in China, where they remain in detention and face charges of spying for Canada.  

“Do I regret that Canada followed its laws? Do I regret that Canada lived up to a longstanding extradition treaty with our closest ally? Absolutely not,” Trudeau said. “Canada is a country of the rule of law and obeying those laws can’t just be when it’s convenient or when it’s easy. 

“If you’re a country of the rule of law, if you’re a country of values, you need to step up for those. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Pressuring China

Trudeau acknowledged that the situation is difficult but said the key to dealing with China is to work in concert with other countries, including a Biden-led U.S., to put pressure on Beijing to respect the rule of law.

“In the face of pressure and increasingly coercive moves by one of the world’s great powers, I think that really highlights at which point we need to be working together as allies, as neighbours, as friends, as countries,” he said.

“Very few countries could stand up on its own to a superpower, to a great power. But working together in alignment, we can make sure there is a recognition that the path that China is choosing to take right now is probably not going to be as effective, even for them, as they think it will.”

Observers will be closely watching the APEC summit, and the G20 leaders’ meeting being hosted by Saudi Arabia over the weekend, for signs of fresh conflict between China and the U.S. Outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to take part in the APEC virtual meetings — which could be among his final appearances as president.

Both summits are supposed to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly its economic impacts and the actions the international community should be taking to mitigate them now and recover afterward.

Trudeau hinted during his address that he plans to call for more action on climate change while pushing back against protectionism.

The G20 summit also threatens to be a prickly affair because of host Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human rights record and the possible participation of Trump, Xi and the autocratic leaders of Russia and Turkey.