OTTAWA – Dominic Barton has tendered his resignation as ambassador to China after two tense years in which he was praised for helping secure the release of two Canadians from Chinese custody, and criticized for strongly pushing closer trade ties with Beijing.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Barton’s pending departure on Monday morning, saying the former business executive will officially leave at the end of the year.
“With much gratitude and respect, I have accepted Ambassador Barton’s decision to leave his post in Beijing at the end of the year,” Trudeau said in a statement.
“For the last two years, Dominic has led our team in China with determination, integrity, and compassion, and at a time when relations between our two countries faced difficult challenges.”
The announcement comes three months after the release of two Canadians – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – who were first arrested and detained in December 2018 by Chinese authorities.
Their detention in Chinese prison was in apparent retaliation for Canadian officials having arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who was wanted in the U.S. on fraud charges.
The case of the two Michaels dominated Barton’s tenure as Canada’s top diplomat in Beijing, which Trudeau noted in announcing his resignation on Monday.
“As a defender of human rights and the rule of law, his top priority always remained securing the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who had been arbitrarily detained in China for two and a half years,” Trudeau said.
“He worked tirelessly on this important task. … Thanks to Dominic’s leadership and skilled diplomatic approach, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are back at home with their families.”
The two Michaels were released in September after Wanzhou entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S.
Yet Barton, who previously served as a top executive with global consulting firm McKinsey and Co., was also criticized before and during his time as ambassador for pushing greater trade ties with China despite Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian bent.
Trudeau in his statement praised Barton for having helped shape Canada’s ties and priorities with China, saying: “Thanks to his efforts, Canada is now better positioned to manage this important relationship and achieve our diplomatic objectives.”