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China's press, social media rave about ‘handsome’ Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Sophie Gregoire hold Ella-Grace's hand as she jumps over a drainage pipe as they visit a section of the Great Wall of China, in Beijing on Thursday, September 1, 2016.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

It's become routine now for Justin Trudeau to land in a foreign country to the screams of local admirers. But Mr. Trudeau's arrival in Beijing this week for his first visit as Prime Minister provoked a uniquely Chinese response.

"Lick your screen," came the call on social media, as pictures of the Canadian Prime Minister ricocheted from phone to phone.

In China, public declarations of admiration for other leaders are not uncommon. Angela Merkel impressed with her modesty, choosing a room cheaper than the presidential suite. David Cameron and Joe Biden drew commendation for sampling Chinese food – noodles for Mr. Biden, hotpot for Mr. Cameron.

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But outside Vladimir Putin – sometimes called "Adonis" – few have attracted the breathless reviews that have greeted Mr. Trudeau.

"He has curly hair, deep eyes, a handsome face and tight muscles. Today we introduce everyone to a Hollywood star – oops, that's not right – the Prime Minister of Canada!" wrote the Chongqing Morning Post in a blog post.

Related: Trudeau in China: Focus shifts to human rights after ambassador's rebuke to Beijing

There in the post were photos of Mr. Trudeau in a philosopher's pose (sharp suit and tie); standing in a boxing pose (topless); flexing at a boxing weigh-in (topless again); raising his arms in boxing victory (sleeveless); carving on a snowboard (full snow gear); doing a peacock planking yoga pose on a table (rolled-up sleeves, no jacket); standing with a puppy for an acting role (military jacket, pencil mustache); and speaking in front of a blackboard (suit and tie, though the real accoutrements were the chalk-scribbled equations).

With a "super high IQ plus his famous family … he could simply rely on his appearance, but he has leaned on talent instead. I admire this," the Post added.

On social media, people called Mr. Trudeau an "international Internet celebrity," an "explosively hot" leader who is "so tall and hasn't gotten fat yet."

Even Jack Ma, the Alibaba founder and icon of China's new billionaires, joined in. What Mr. Trudeau has done "is a miracle to me," he said. "You can see and feel the spark, energy and confidence of Canada. We believe he is the future of Canada." More than nine million people viewed online broadcasts of Mr. Ma in conversation with Mr. Trudeau.

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Not everyone offered pleasantries. Chinese activists accused Mr. Trudeau of abandoning principles in his pursuit of new "friendship" with China. On Thursday, cartoonist Badiucao released a drawing on Twitter that shows Justin Trudeau, a red maple leaf emblazoned on his back, bending over to kiss the hand of Mao Zedong, who is lying in state.

"Letz talk about money not human rights, shall we?" the Chinese artist wrote from Australia, where he lives in self-imposed exile and writes under a pen name for protection.

Inside China, however, traditional media had little bad to say.

Mr. Trudeau appeared on the front page of China Daily, and his visit was prominently splashed by the state-run Xinhua news agency and People's Daily newspaper, which placed a picture of a smiling Mr. Trudeau shaking hands with President Xi Jinping at the top of its newspaper and website.

Phoenix TV said he "is as handsome as Tom Cruise," endowed with "the aura of his father." The Communist Party-run Global Times flattered his "pragmatic policies," crowing over China's "political coup" in securing Canada's application to the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Canadian membership, the nationalist tabloid said, makes U.S. and Japanese "isolation more obvious."

Premier Li Keqiang invited the Prime Minister to an informal dinner inside the Forbidden City, a first for Mr. Li.

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Mr. Trudeau, in turn, complimented Mr. Li for China's "extraordinary job" in raising hundreds of millions of people into the middle class. "This is an amazing achievement planet-wide," he said.

He gave a rave review, too, after strolling the Great Wall of China with his wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and daughter Ella-Grace on Thursday morning.

"It's beautiful," he said. "Every time I come here, it gets a little more beautiful."

Mr. Trudeau has walked on the wall twice before on visits with his father, who was also the object of Chinese praise. On the elder Trudeau's first official visit in 1973, it was clear "that his hosts have a warmth of feeling toward him that they have not shown to any other government leader, other than those from allied socialist countries like Romania and North Vietnam," a Globe and Mail correspondent wrote.

Pierre Trudeau was among the first Western leaders to recognize Communist China as distinct from Taiwan. Then-premier Zhou Enlai called him "an old friend."

Forty-three years later, Chinese Internet users have rechristened him "Old Potato" and dubbed Justin Trudeau "Little Potato," an affectionate play on the way his surname sounds to a Chinese speaker's ear.

The adulation online hasn't been replicated in the flesh. Mr. Trudeau's itinerary has so far kept him from interacting with many everyday Chinese. At the Great Wall, he was ushered onto a section cordoned off to the public, before departing again on a highway cleared for his use.

He offered a thin presence on Chinese social media, too, even as talk about him proliferated.

His accounts on Twitter-like Weibo and Facebook-like WeChat stayed dormant for his first two days in China. Only on Thursday did new content appear. (Before that, his most recent posts dated to November, 2015, and were written in traditional characters, not the simplified script used in mainland China.)

But the pictures of the Trudeaus on the Great Wall stood out to Chinese Internet users not for the people in them, but those who were missing – the crowds that normally jam its lengths. That's normal practice for foreign leaders, but still rankled some.

"I'm not sure how many tourists were cleared out," one person commented. "Next time, please do show some consideration to the feelings of ordinary Chinese."

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About the Author
Asia Bureau Chief

Nathan VanderKlippe is the Asia correspondent for The Globe and Mail. He was previously a print and television correspondent in Western Canada based in Calgary, Vancouver and Yellowknife, where he covered the energy industry, aboriginal issues and Canada’s north.He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award and a Best in Business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. More

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