Barton’s Resignation Gives Ottawa an Opportunity to Change China Approach

December 6, 2021 Updated: December 6, 2021


Canada has just received yet another opportunity that would help it refine its approach to China: the news that Dominic Barton has decided to step down as ambassador to China at the end of the year.

On Dec. 6, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his gratitude to Barton for leading Canada’s team with “determination, integrity, and compassion” during a challenging time in Canada-China relations. He praised Barton as an astute “defender of human rights and law” who “worked tirelessly” to facilitate the return of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who were held captive by the Chinese government for over two years in retaliation for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wangzhou. In his own statement, Barton said helping to secure the release of the two Michaels was “the honour of a lifetime.”

While Barton was eager to take credit for the release of the two Michaels upon Meng’s release—which some saw as the United States and Canada caving in to Beijing’s hostage diplomacy—it didn’t take him long to go back to publicly singing the praises of a close relationship with the communist regime. This, of course, fits with the government’s line of touting China’s business opportunities, to the gross neglect of human rights and Beijing’s increasingly aggressive behaviour on the world stage.

As the saying goes, “personnel is policy.” With this in mind, the appointment of Barton—formerly the director of a company that has long worked closely with Chinese state-owned companies—is symbolic of the Trudeau government’s obsession with continuing the decades-long pursuit of a utopic-like economic relationship with China and the consequences of having a foreign policy completely designed by a self-interested business class. The tenure of people like Barton should be regarded as the embodiment of Ottawa’s continual failure to define its foreign policy in such a way that takes into account the many aspects of a complicated relationship in order to be adaptable.

This year has been even more enlightening as to how the threat China poses will develop over the next few years. Xi Jinping’s speech delivered on July 1 to celebrate the Chinese Communist Party’s centennial is only one of many that indicate that for all our anxieties over the development of a “Cold War,” the CCP has already declared one and is now waging a “long-term struggle” against elements it sees as enemies. The “historical resolution” the Party recently passed shows another aspect of this, as it seeks to further cement the CCP as the only legitimate rulers who can fulfill China’s destiny as a nation.

The issue of Taiwan and “reunification” is a crucial piece of the CCP’s grand vision, one that dangles as a huge threat over Taiwan and its sovereignty. The CCP has wasted no time flexing its muscles and indicating that it is increasingly willing to try to take Taiwan by force if need be, with its military’s frequent forays into Taiwanese airspace and taunts in its propaganda.

Observers such as Canada’s J.Michael Cole and America’s Elbridge Colby have intelligently pointed to the dire consequences we’d face if the democratic world failed to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack. Aside from the obvious moral objectives of defending a successful democracy from totalitarian predations, both have argued convincingly that the credibility of the United States and its allies is also connected to our defence of Taiwan, and that failing to do so would embolden Beijing and allow it to accumulate enough power to redraw the map and threaten other allies in the region.

Such dangers should be our focus; however, figures such as Barton remain steadfastly in a camp that can only see things from a business lens and see geopolitics as a pesky obstacle to their ambitions. This was borne out when, after the release of the two Michaels, came the hare-brained declaration from Barton and his fellow members of the business class that all serious problems with China were solved and Canada could look forward to pursuing business as usual.

Barton’s resignation opens the door for Canada to appoint someone to the post who has thought deeply about all aspects of Canada’s role in the world, the implications of China’s rise to power, and has discernible experience vying for Canadian interests while engaging with troublesome regimes.

It would be wise of Ottawa to use the opportunity this presents to design a more principled policy and assemble an astute team to put it into practice.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Shane Miller
Shane Miller is a political writer based in London, Ontario.