China said on Thursday it accepted Canada’s choice for a new ambassador to Beijing but urged Ottawa to “reflect on its mistakes” amid diplomatic tensions between the countries.
Relations nosedived in December after Canadian police arrested a top executive of Chinese tech giant Huawei in Vancouver on a US warrant over charges related to the violation of Iran sanctions.
Beijing detained two Canadians — former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor — days later in apparent retaliation, with both men now facing espionage-related accusations.
Canada on Wednesday nominated Dominic Barton as its new envoy to Beijing, eight months after his predecessor, John McCallum, was sacked for contradicting Ottawa’s official position on the arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou.
Barton, 56, helped shape the economic policies of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government and is said to be well-known in Beijing.
“China has already agreed the appointment of the new ambassador of Canada to China,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Thursday at a regular press briefing.
“We look forward to his active role in pushing China-Canada relations back on track,” Geng said.
The spokesman said Canada was responsible for the current state of relations.
“Canada is very clear about the crux of the problem in the current Sino-Canadian relationship,” he said.
“We urge Canada to reflect on its mistakes, treat China’s solemn stance and concerns seriously, and immediately release Meng Wanzhou, so that she can return home safely,” Geng said.
He added that Cong Peiwu — who was until July the head of the foreign ministry’s Department of North American and Oceanian Affairs — will serve as China’s new ambassador to Canada after his predecessor left to be China’s top envoy in Paris.
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.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said 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,” she said.
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