“Justin Trudeau has a serious weakness,” according to the Canadian pundit R. Michael Warren, writing in The Star in 2014. “It’s his tendency to say dumb things in unscripted moments.”
Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau tried to earn brownie points with the folks back home when he brought up the matter of alleged extrajudicial killings in a talk with President Rodrigo Duterte. But the handsome 45-year-old Canadian didn’t know that his bragging to the media about being the only leader during the Asean summit meeting in Manila to take up the issue with Duterte would bite him in the behind when he was asked about the unresolved issue of the garbage brought here from his country four years ago.
The Canadian Liberal Party leader (yes, he belongs to a party ideologically affiliated with the local opposition LP) had to quickly end his press briefing when asked about the topic of more than 100 container vans from Canada loaded with medical and other waste brought into the Manila port under false pretenses as recyclable plastic. The would-be champion of human rights was laid low by another issue that is equally close to the hearts of his fellow Liberals, that of protecting the environment.
Trudeau told the press that it was expected of Canada to bring up “strong and firm discussions on human rights and rule of law around the world.” But when asked about the uncollected Canadian garbage, something he promised that his government would fix when Trudeau first arrived in Manila during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in 2015, he could only say that it was “impossible” because it was against Canadian law to bring waste from foreign lands into his country—even if the waste had originally come from there.
“He should have said, ‘I have raised the matter [of the killings] with the President.’ Period,” observed Wilfrido Villacorta, a former Philippine ambassador to the Asean. “But he kept on talking. Of course, any host-leader would feel offended [because] this is intervention.
“There’s nothing wrong per se about raising [the issue of] human rights,” Villacorta added, “But to brag about it, I think [Trudeau] was playing up to the Canadian audience.”
Villacorta explained that Trudeau also offended Asean, which proclaimed that it approved a landmark agreement on the welfare of migrant workers during the meeting. “The Rohingya question, the EJKs supposedly or the South China Sea, this is not the priority of Asean [in the Manila summit],” he said.
Duterte, who was reported to have only nodded when buttonholed by the media-savvy Canadian PM, later said that he felt personally insulted when the eager-beaver Trudeau talked to him about supposed EJKs. But Duterte did not feel the need to insult Trudeau back on the spot, conscious as he was that he had to play the gracious Filipino host to a brash foreigner who was apparently not aware of the rules and traditions of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations—or even of basic etiquette for a guest to a foreign land.
It was as if Canada sent the wrong Justin to Manila. Not the prime minister, but the pop singer surnamed Bieber.
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What the acknowledged social media maven Trudeau did not understand was “the Asean Way,” the group’s controversial but highly effective approach to solving issues that respects the cultural norms of Southeast Asia. Wrote Logan Masilamani and Jimmy Peterson in the Foreign Policy Journal in 2015:
“The Asean Way above all prioritizes a consensus-based, non-conflictual way of addressing problems. Quiet diplomacy allows Asean leaders to communicate without bringing the discussions into the public view. Members avoid embarrassment that may lead to further conflict.”
The policy, they said, might “be usefully applied to global conflict management.” The Way is the expression of principles of fundamental importance to Asean, according to the group’s charter: consensus, non-interference, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and unity in diversity.
The Asean Way is not without its critics, who say that the approach can be only applied to Asian countries with specific cultural norms. The latest to call for the lifting of the consensus-based decision-making process of Asean is, in fact, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who proposed during a speech at a side event of the summit that a more Western “majority rule” voting system for all the 10 members of the Asean be adopted; Arroyo recalled how the association was hamstrung by the need for consensus amid international pressure on Myanmar, an Asean member, to free rights leader Aung San Suu Kyi from detention by her military captors.
It’s worth noting that Trudeau also bragged to the media that he had an “extensive talk” with Suu Kyi, who is now Myanmar’s leader but who is also facing charges of helping oppress the minority Rohingya Muslims in her own country. But, of course, that was also before the matter of the dumping of Canadian garbage in Manila was brought up.
The man is a clueless Liberal, after all. It’s only sad that when he left, he didn’t take his country’s garbage back home with him.