Liberals’ economic adviser to become Canada’s new ambassador to China

Previous envoy John McCallum was fired because of public comments that broke with government line

Dominic Barton, chairman of an advisory committee to federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau, talks with reporters at the World Economic Forum Wednesday, January 24, 2018 in Davos, Switzerland. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Dominic Barton, chairman of an advisory committee to federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau, talks with reporters at the World Economic Forum Wednesday, January 24, 2018 in Davos, Switzerland. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

The Liberals are naming business consultant Dominic Barton as Canada’s new ambassador to China.

Barton steps into the role with the two countries engaged in a diplomatic feud.

At the centre are Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on an extradition request by the United States, and China’s subsequent detentions of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.

The ambassadorship has been vacant since January, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fired former cabinet minister John McCallum following a number of public comments that broke with the government’s line.

Barton has been global managing director of consulting firm McKinsey & Co. and was head of the Trudeau government’s influential economic advisory council.

He has connections in Asia, having worked there for 12 years as well as serving on the board of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and being listed as an adjunct professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, according to online biographies.

In a statement, Trudeau says those years of experience make Barton “a great choice to represent Canada — and Canadian interests in China.”

Barton is quoted in the prime minister’s announcement as saying it is an honour to be appointed ambassador. He calls the relationship between the two countries important and vows to “work hard to represent our great country and to resolve the challenges that currently exist.”

The challenges started in earnest in late 2018 when Canadian authorities detained Meng as she transited through Vancouver’s airport. The United States wants her extradited to face allegations that she lied to U.S. banks as part of an effort to circumvent American sanctions on Iran.

Days later, China arrested Spavor and Kovrig and then accused them of undermining China’s national security. Canadian officials have met with them 11 times since their December arrests and calls their detentions arbitrary.

RELATED: Consular officials pay 10th visit to Canadian Michael Kovrig detained in China

Efforts have thus far failed to get either released, while China has upped the diplomatic pressure by banning imports of Canadian canola and impeding other agricultural products.

The Opposition Conservatives repeatedly called on the Liberals to fill the position in the months following McCallum’s ouster.

The Canadian Press

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