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Canada's ambassador to China stepping down

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TORONTO -

Dominic Barton is stepping down as Canada’s ambassador to China at the end of the month, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office released Monday.

“With much gratitude and respect, I have accepted Ambassador Barton’s decision to leave his post in Beijing at the end of the year,” the statement reads.

Barton has served as ambassador to China for the past two years, during a period Trudeau’s statement described as “a time when relations between our two countries faced difficult challenges.”

The statement also thanked Barton for his involvement in securing the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. The two men were detained in China for nearly three years in a move widely seen as retaliation by China for the 2018 arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

“He worked tirelessly on this important task,” the statement said. “Thanks for Dominic’s leadership and skilled diplomatic approach, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are back at home with their families.”

The statement did not address who would be stepping in to the role after Barton’s departure.

In a personal statement released Monday, Barton said he will step down effective Dec. 31, 2021, and said the return of the two Michaels was the highlight of his tenure as ambassador between the two nations.

“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,” Barton’s statement said. “It was the honour of a lifetime to help with their release and I am extremely proud of the many Canadian public servants who helped bring them home.”

Barton said in his statement that he believes the relationship between Canada and China is “of critical importance to our future

In response to Barton’s departure, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said at a media briefing Monday morning that the Trudeau government has “mishandled the relationship with China” since the prime minister came to power.

“I’d like to thank Mr. Barton for his service, we had no ambassador for almost a year in between Mr. Barton and Mr. McCallum who had to resign because of failures to be transparent with respect to the situation with the two Michaels,” O’Toole said, adding that he believes most Canadians regard the relationship between China and Canada as “a mess.”

O’Toole urged a principle-based approach to the relationship with China where “economic concerns will not dominate concerns over human rights,” citing the crackdown in Hong Kong, the alleged persecution of Uyghurs and heightened tensions over Taiwan.

“I hope Mr. Trudeau puts a professional, experienced diplomat in that post, not a friend of the Liberal Party,” O’Toole said.

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