MANILA: From a standing ovation upon his entrance into the hall to being mobbed by selfie-taking journalists, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is – without doubt – the most popular world leader at the 31st Asean Summit here.
While US President Donald Trump may be the most powerful man in the world, Trudeau is the rock star for the media covering the summit.
In a country that idolises its politicians, even Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte doesn’t get as much attention.
Arriving in Manila on Sunday, the first thing that Trudeau did – breaking from protocol – was to get a takeout at Jollibee, the Philippines’ version of McDonald’s.
Not only did he buy food, he also posed for photos with the overwhelmed staff at the outlet.
The suave and smooth Canadian leader had the world’s media eating out of his hands when he gave a press conference on the last day of the summit at the International Media Centre here.
Alternating between English and French, Trudeau endeared himself with the host when he said that Tagalog was spoken across all states in Canada as Filipinos were the largest group of immigrants in the country.
That set the tone for his charm offensive as he tackled everything from climate change to sexual and reproductive rights and even contentious topics like extrajudicial killings and the Rohingya crisis.
Asked if he had questioned Duterte and Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi over the drug war murders and the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine, Trudeau said in both cases, he had asked the “uncomfortable questions”.
“Canada is a country that always brings up human rights issues. When you engage with Canada, you will have to bear with these concerns, but I do admit that our own indigenous peoples have also suffered marginalisation and neglect for decades,” he said.
This is Trudeau’s second time in the Philippines – his first being in 2015 – and don’t bet on him not coming back to the region because his stated goal was to get his country involved in the East Asia Summit, a conference of Asean plus its dialogue partners.
“Asean has a population of 640 million – that’s twice the population of US. Asean is also Canada’s sixth largest trading partner. So, becoming part of the EAS makes sense. It will create economic opportunities for Canadian businesses as well as NGOs,” he said.
Trudeau attended the closing ceremony of the 31st Asean Summit with the other leaders before flying back to Vancouver for a security symposium starting today.
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