Canada names new China envoy amid damaged relations

TORONTO (AP) — Canada on Wednesday announced the appointment of a prominent businessman as its new ambassador to China amid damaged relations following the arrest of a top Chinese tech executive.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Dominic Barton, the former global managing director of the influential consulting firm McKinsey & Co, as the new envoy. Barton is head of the Trudeau government's economic advisory council.

Beijing's embassy in Ottawa said China has accepted the nomination of Barton and said the Chinese side "expects him to play a positive role in promoting the bilateral relations back to the right track."

Trudeau fired the previous ambassador after he said it would be "great" if the U.S. dropped its extradition request for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

The arrest of the daughter of the founder of Huawei at Vancouver's airport Dec. 1 severely damaged relations between China and Canada.

The U.S. wants her extradited to face charges that she committed fraud by misleading banks about Huawei's business dealings in Iran.

China detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor on Dec. 10 in an apparent attempt to pressure Canada to release Meng. China has stopped importing certain Canadian products like canola and meat, and it also re-sentenced a convicted Canadian drug smuggler to death after the Meng arrest as part of an apparent campaign of intimidation and retribution against Canada.

Barton worked in Asia for 12 years as well as serving on the board of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and worked as an adjunct professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, according to online biographies.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said appointing Barton is a message to China of the "importance Canada places on this difficult and critical relationship."

Rob Malley, president of the non-governmental organization that Kovrig worked for, the International Crisis Group, called Barton's appointment very good news.

"I have been in touch with Dominic for some time and know his commitment to human rights and to Michael specifically," Malley said.

"I am confident he will do everything in his power to end Michael's detention. With his deep interest in Asia, strong economic background and close ties to the Prime Minister, he also he will be taken seriously by Chinese authorities."

Wenran Jiang, a senior fellow at the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia, said Barton will be well received by the Chinese government.

"It is an indication that the Trudeau government would like to restore relations with a focus on mutual economic interests," he said.

"It takes courage for PM Trudeau to name someone whose consulting firm has done extensive works in China and for Chinese clients, against the relentless pressure from negative forces that are advocating decoupling with China and making China an enemy. This gesture will not be unnoticed by Beijing."

But he said that's not likely enough to prompt Beijing to release the detained Canadians.

"Officially Beijing said they are not linked, but we all know, and the general consensus is that If Meng is released back to China, the cases involving the two Michaels will be a lot easier," he said.