A Greater Victoria entrepreneur with business ties to China says that Canada’s newly appointed ambassador to China understands that country, but also wonders whether the appointment will ease tensions between the two countries.
Alistair Vigier, chief executive officer of ClearWay Law, said he is glad Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has appointed Dominic Barton as Canada’s new ambassador. Barton has in the past served as Trudeau’s economic advisor.
He will be replacing John McCallum, whom Trudeau fired in January, after he had made comments about the case of Meng Wanzhou, an executive with Chinese telecom company Huawei who remains in custody in Canada. Her arrest on behalf of American authorities has triggered a diplomatic crisis in the relationship between Canada and China.
Vigier, who listened to Barton speak at the International Economic Forum of the Americas currently happening in Toronto, said Barton understands Asia by way of his professional history with McKinsey and Company, a global management consulting firm.
“I am glad we finally have a new ambassador to China,” he said. “Canada has been without a permanent ambassador in China since January 2019.” Following the departure of the Chinese ambassador in June 2019, neither Canada nor China had an ambassador in the other country, he added. “It is not a good sign when neither country sees fit to have representation in the other country during such a critical time in relationships between the two countries,” said Vigier.
But the mere presence of an ambassador does not immediately resolve existing tensions. “The ambassador will have to do a good job making friends in China, without upsetting our two closest allies, the [United Kingdom] and the [United States],” he said.
Barton’s influence might be limited by what happens elsewhere. “I don’t think the current tensions between Canada and China are within the control of Canada,” said Vigier. “It is really about China and the U.S. fighting for power over the world. Both countries want to dominate each other. It’s sort of like an economic cold war. I don’t think the new ambassador will be able to do much.”
Notably, Barton addressed the bigger picture in his remarks before the audience of entrepreneurs.
“Barton said that China is sort of like Germany at the end of the [19th century],” he said. “It was emerging globally and using its advanced technology to grow. However, we all know what happened in the end with Germany when it grew too far beyond its borders.”