Consulting firm veteran Dominic Barton handed Canada envoy job in Beijing to help free detainees

World | 5 Sep 2019 4:33 pm

Dominic Barton, the former global managing partner of consultancy firm McKinsey, has been appointed Canada’s new ambassador to China, tasked with reviving relations between the countries that have hit an all-time low following the arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer last year, the Financial Times reports.

The appointment of Barton fills a position that has been vacant for months as relations between Ottawa and Beijing have deteriorated sharply, raising questions about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approach to dealing with China.

Meng Wanzhou, CFO of Huawei and daughter of the company’s founder Ren Zhengfei, was apprehended in Vancouver last year following a US extradition request over allegations the company had violated sanctions against Iran. Huawei has denied the accusations.

China subsequently arrested Canadians Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat who worked for the International Crisis Group, and businessman Michael Spavor on accusations of spying. The two men are still detained in the country and have been held in solitary confinement, deprived of sleep and interrogated regularly.

Beijing has also hit Ottawa economically, targeting Canola seed exports. Canadian Canola seed exports to China were worth US$2.7bn in 2018.

Barton ran McKinsey for nine years until 2018, during which time annual revenues doubled. But his tenure was marred by its dealings in South Africa, where the company was embroiled in a series of scandals over political corruption.

Barton has strong links to China.

He was previously based in Shanghai as the firm’s Asia chairman and sits on the advisory board of China Development Bank Capital Group.

He has also served as an adjunct professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Barton’s appointment has been met with praise from Canada’s business community and scepticism from some former diplomats and analysts given his strong connections to Chinese business.

Perrin Beatty, head of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said Barton was “an outstanding choice for such a sensitive and important post”.

But Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University, was not optimistic that the appointment would resolve the conflict between the two countries with Beijing insisting on the release of Ms Meng.

“Canada is eager to reset relations with China as China’s sanction on Canada is taking its toll,” he said. “But Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou under the request of the US. We don’t see much hope of Meng’s coming back to China in the near future.”

Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s foreign minister, said a priority for Barton would be securing the release of Kovrig and Spavor.

Barton replaces John McCallum, a veteran Canadian politician, who was fired in January after a series of public remarks that appeared sympathetic to Meng’s cas, the FT reports.

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