Canada nominated a key economic advisor on Wednesday as its new ambassador to China, hoping to kickstart dialogue and ease a diplomatic standoff with the world’s second largest economy.
Ugandan-born, Oxford-educated Dominic Barton, 56, helped shape the economic policies of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government and is said to be well-known in Beijing, which must still formally accept his appointment.
China is also expected to soon nominate its own ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, who served until recently as head of its Department of North American and Oceanian Affairs.
Both nations have been without representation for months after Ottawa sacked its envoy for contradicting its official position on a Chinese tech executive’s arrest, and China’s ambassador moved on to a new post in Paris.
Relations nosedived after Canada detained Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou during a stopover in Vancouver last December. The United States wants to put her on trial for allegedly violating Iran sanctions and lying about it to US banks.
Nine days after her arrest, Beijing detained two Canadians — former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor — and accused them of espionage, in a move widely viewed as retaliation.
Barton was based in Shanghai from 2004 to 2009 as the Asia chairman for consulting firm McKinsey. He then served nine years as global managing partner for the company.
“An expert in the region, he is exceptionally well-suited to represent Canada and advance Canadian interests at this critical time,” Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement.
At a news conference, she added that Barton would have a direct line to Trudeau’s office, saying he “has that level of trust with the prime minister, and also with me.”
“I think this is also an important message to China of the importance that Canada places, that the prime minister places, on this difficult and critical relationship.”
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