Canada’s ambassador to China stepping down at the end of the month

Dominic Barton-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Dominic Barton is stepping down as Canada’s ambassador to China later this month. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Just months after helping secure the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, Dominic Barton is stepping down as Canada’s ambassador to China.

In a statement announcing his decision, Barton said that when he accepted the appointment in 2019, his priority was to secure their release and manage Canada’s relationship with China.

“Today, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are back in Canada, and the government is better positioned to achieve its other diplomatic priorities with China,” he wrote.

“Working to secure Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor’s release has been one of the most significant events in my life and I have been incredibly moved by the bravery and resilience of these two men, as well as their families.”

Kovrig and Spavor, whose detention in China for nearly three years was largely seen as retaliation for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou’s arrest in Vancouver, returned home in September, just hours after the extradition case against Wanzhou was dropped.

Canada-China relationship ‘of critical importance’

Barton, who previously served as the chair of the finance minister’s advisory council on economic growth, said helping free the two men was “the honour of a lifetime.”

“I believe that the relationship between Canada and China is of critical importance to our future,” he wrote.

“As I leave my role, my successor will be on strong footing to further this relationship, build on our people-to-people relations, trade and investment ties, while continuing to stand firm on human rights and the rule of law and addressing outstanding consular and market access issues that exist.”

2 Michael's-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Left, Michael Kovrig embraces Vina Nadjibulla following his arrival in Toronto on a Canadian Air Force jet after his release from detention in China in late September, while Michael Spavor, right, leaves Calgary International Airport. Both men spent more than 1,000 days in a Chinese prison. (Cpl. Justin Dreimanis/DND-MDN Canada/Reuters, Colin Hall/CBC)

In his own statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked Barton for his work.

“Dominic, my friend, thank you for your work and dedication to our country and to the people of Canada,” he wrote.

“Canada is stronger because of your service, and I wish you all the best.”

Barton’s resignation is effective Dec. 31.

Canada needs ‘principle-based approach’: O’Toole

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole thanked the departing Barton for his service but called Canada-China relations “a mess” under the current federal government.

Citing China’s crackdown on democratic rights in Hong Kong and the ongoing abuse of the Uyghur Muslim minority, O’Toole said Canada needs to adjust its posturing toward China and take a more “principle-based approach” that doesn’t let “economic interests dominate our concerns about human rights.”

As for the next ambassador, O’Toole said it’s “high time for a professional diplomat to be in place — not a friend of the Liberal Party.”

O’Toole also called on the government to initiate a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, which would mean no Canadian government officials would attend the Games but athletes would still be allowed to compete.

“I think that’s the best thing we can do alongside our allies — that way we don’t make our athletes pay the price for the conduct in Beijing,” O’Toole said.

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