Canada has appointed veteran business consultant Dominic Barton as ambassador to China, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday, as the government grapples with a major diplomatic and trade dispute between the nations.
Barton, 56, a Uganda-born Canadian who stepped down as global managing partner of consulting firm McKinsey & Co last year, has extensive experience in China and is close to Trudeau’s Liberal government.
“His years of experience in Asia and the significant global economics expertise he has acquired over an impressive career will make him a great choice,” Trudeau said in a statement.
Barton replaces John McCallum, who Trudeau fired in January for commenting on the case of Huawei Technologies Co Ltd (華為) chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou (孟晚舟), who was arrested in Canada and is fighting extradition to the US.
Beijing has blocked imports of Canadian canola seed, pork and beef, and has charged two Canadians with spying.
Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland said that it was vital to choose an envoy who Beijing knew would have direct access to Trudeau.
She also told reporters in Toronto that Barton would be expected to stress the importance of human rights.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang (耿爽) said that Beijing had approved Barton’s appointment and hoped he would “play a positive role in getting China-Canada relations back on track.”
Geng reiterated that the problems in the relationship were entirely Canada’s responsibility and again urged Canada to reflect on its mistakes and release Meng.
Business and agricultural groups welcomed the announcement.
“We are pleased with the appointment and the signal that both sides see the importance of returning to normal bilateral relations,” Business Council of Canada president and CEO Goldy Hyder said.
“This is the outcome of a months-long diplomatic process,” a Canadian government official said earlier on Wednesday.
The dispute could become an issue in a federal election set for Oct. 21. The Liberals face a tough fight against the Conservatives, who say that Trudeau has not been tough enough on Beijing.
Conservative foreign policy spokesman Erin O’Toole accused Trudeau of “replacing one Liberal insider with another Liberal insider at a time that we should have a professional diplomat ... to secure the swift release of Canadian citizens and stabilization of export trade.”
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