Canadian newcomer Trudeau a fresh face among APEC leaders
Manila, Philippines — He’s younger than the next youngest leader by six years and nearly a full generation behind the 60-year-old average age of his Pacific Rim peers.
Newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, 43, installed on a liberal agenda at odds with the authoritarian policies of some other Asia-Pacific leaders, is bringing a dash of vitality to an annual forum whose most concrete outcome is usually a photo op of mainly middle-aged men in funky shirts.
Tall and trim, Trudeau exudes the star power of his father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, whose charisma often drew comparisons to John F. Kennedy.
Recently seen trick-or-treating with his wife and young children, Trudeau is 26 years younger than the Sultan of Brunei, at 69 the eldest of the 21 leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which is meeting in the Philippine capital this week.
On the tongue-in-cheek online “Hottest Heads of State List” Trudeau ranks second, at 34 percent of votes, way behind the king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, who garnered 61 percent support. But he was way ahead of the next most admired APEC leader, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who took only 3 percent of the vote. Rankings of other regional leaders stretched from No. 11, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, to No. 197, Chinese President Xi Jinping.
In Manila, slots to cover Trudeau’s appearance at a business forum were hotly contested by local reporters keen to see the APEC newcomer.
“Girls only have eyes for Trudeau, Nieto,” gushed a headline in the newspaper Philippine Inquirer.
“The Internet has found a reason to care about the APEC summit,” tweeted online publication GlobalPost, using “APEChottie” as a hashtag.
Back home, he’s enjoying a reprise of “Trudeaumania,” the wave of popularity that swept his father into office in 1968 and kept him there, with a short break, until 1984.
Sworn in two weeks ago, Trudeau has made a point of breaking with the ways of his predecessor, Conservative Stephen Harper, who sought to roll back Canada’s reputation for Liberalism during nearly a decade in office.
But it’s unclear if Trudeau will end up taking any major changes of stance from those held by Harper during the meeting in Manila, an economic forum whose statements are nonbinding.
Trudeau favors Canada’s ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade agreement championed by U.S. President Barack Obama that is meant to become the core of a region-wide free trade bloc. A final deal was struck last month after years of delays and now leaders must win approvals of their own governments for it to become a reality.
In his youth and liberalism, Trudeau has been likened to Obama, who at 54 is more than a decade older.
Mexico’s Nieto is 49. The leaders of Russia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Peru are all in their early to mid-50s. But the other Pacific Rim leaders are in their early 60s or older. Several, such as Chinese President Xi Jinping and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang, head communist, one-party states.
Though events like the annual Pacific Rim summit are staged in minute detail, the “informal” discussions will give the leaders further time to size up the new guy on the block, following the weekend meetings of the Group of 20 industrial nations in Turkey.
Declaring he intends to reclaim Canada’s “compassionate and constructive voice,” Trudeau said before he was elected that he intended to be “pushing back against the bully that is Vladimir Putin.”
Those comments drew remarks in the local media about conflicting Canadian and Russian interests in the Arctic circle, and raised eyebrows among those imagining the younger leader challenging the stern Russian black belt in karate.
The two will not meet in Manila. At APEC, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is representing Russia. But Putin and Trudeau did have a brief, apparently civil encounter in Turkey.
Trudeau told Canadian media that he pointed out to Putin that Canada is shifting its approach on various issues but shares Harper’s stance that “Russia’s interference in Ukraine must cease.”
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