11/16/2015 05:39 EST | Updated 11/16/2016 05:12 EST

China Praises Trudeau's Father For His 'Extraordinary Vision' In Establishing Relations

Xi Jinping told Canada's current prime minister that China will never forget Pierre Elliott Trudeau's decision to open diplomatic relations.

ANTALAYA, Turkey — Justin Trudeau pledged to strengthen co-operation with China after his father's historic engagement with the nation received a glowing tribute Monday from President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit.

The Chinese leader lauded what he called the extraordinary vision of the prime minister's father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, for reaching out to his country and establishing formal diplomatic relations 45 years ago.

"I'm well aware we have an opportunity to set a fresh approach in our relationship right now,'' Trudeau told Xi before a bilateral meeting Monday.

"I certainly hope that this is going to be an era of greater co-operation and mutual benefit for both Canada and China in the coming years.''

Trudeau told the Chinese leader he wanted to "work together on economic political and cultural ties'' during public remarks prior to their meeting.

Behind closed doors, Trudeau also raised human rights concerns, said the prime minister's office.

"On human rights, the prime minister did say that they would not always agree, but part of having a strong relationship involves expressing concerns and disagreements in a respectful way,'' a Trudeau spokesman told reporters in an email.

The two leaders also discussed the possibility of a free trade agreement, the statement said.

Trudeau and many of his fellow G20 leaders were headed to Manila, the Philippine capital, for this week's Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit.

But in his meetings with Xi and Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Turkey, Trudeau was using the G20 summit to get a head start on deepening Canada's economic relations in Asia, a priority he identified in his instruction letters to his new cabinet.

Trudeau's Monday meeting with Xi sharply contrasted to the chilly reception former prime minister Stephen Harper received when he visited Beijing in 2009.

China's then premier chided Harper for taking three years to visit his country.

Relations between Canada and China had deteriorated during Harper's first three years in power. But after Canadian business leaders sounded alarm bells, the Conservatives made a concerted effort to reengage with China.

On Monday, Xi was effusive in his praise for the elder Trudeau's efforts to establish ties with China in 1970. Two years later, the United States followed suit under President Richard Nixon.

"That was an extraordinary political vision,'' Xi told the prime minister. "China will always remember that.''

"I celebrate well 45 years of strong relations between Canada and China,'' Trudeau replied, as he also extended an invitation to the Chinese leader to visit Canada.

David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China in the Harper era, said he would have expected China's leadership to show some extra respect to Trudeau because of his father's name.

"They're happy that there's been a change of government,'' Mulroney said in a recent interview.

"I used to be dismayed sometimes by how political the Chinese would be, indicating their nostalgia for the Liberal era . . . They tend to associate the good times to eras when the Liberals are in power.''

Trudeau's challenge, said Mulroney, will be move the relationship beyond "some nostalgic notion of Canada-China relations'' and advance Canadian interests "with a really important global player.''


Photo gallery Justin Trudeau Childhood Photos See Gallery