Canada’s next envoy to China has deep ties to Asia, highly valuable at a trying time

The Liberals on Wednesday tapped a former top consultant to corporate executives as Canada’s next ambassador to China, filling a role that had been vacant since January amid a sizzling diplomatic feud between the two countries.Dominic Barton, who led the business consulting firm McKinsey & Co. Inc., spent nine years in Asia beginning in 2000,…

The Liberals on Wednesday tapped a former top consultant to corporate executives as Canada’s next ambassador to China, filling a role that had been vacant since January amid a sizzling diplomatic feud between the two countries.

Dominic Barton, who led the business consulting firm McKinsey & Co. Inc., spent nine years in Asia beginning in 2000, including five in Shanghai as McKinsey’s Asia chairman. He also has lived in Singapore and Korea, in addition to various roles on boards in North America.

Barton steps into the role amid a widening diplomatic spat, in which China has banned Canadian meat imports since June and its canola since March. China has also detained two Canadians in apparent retaliation for the arrest last December of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, on a U.S. extradition request.

“The relationship between Canada and China is an important one, and I will work hard to represent our great country and to resolve the challenges that currently exist,” Barton said in a press release.

Prime Minister Trudeau cited Barton’s years of experience in Asia and economic expertise as unique criteria.

He chaired Canada’s Council on Economic Growth, and has served in other advisory roles to Canada’s cabinet.

At McKinsey, the largest partnership in the world, which advises many Fortune 500 companies, Barton served three terms as global managing partner and was known for his dicta that he intended to meet with two corporate executives per day.

Barton has also worked more directly at companies, including as chairman since last fall of the Vancouver-based diversified mining company Teck Resources, which produces coal, oil, zinc and copper. The company has customers in China, and since 2009, counts a Chinese state-owned company as one of its largest investors. Barton resigned his post there on Wednesday.

The position of envoy to Beijing has been filled on an interim basis since January, when Trudeau asked for and received the resignation of John McCallum, who repeatedly made controversial comments about the U.S. extradition case against Wanzhou.

The relationship between Canada and China is an important one, and I will work hard to represent our great country and to resolve the challenges that currently exist

Dominic Barton

Barton has spent time in Beijing, having worked as a professor at Tsinghua University there. He’s also written about the country, including a book called China Vignettes, which includes interviews with citizens there about their lifestyles.

In 2013, he co-authored an article posted on McKinsey’s website that describes how rising consumer choice in China has westernized youth there.

Barton has also delivered numerous talks at universities, many of which are available online, in which he dispenses views on everything from the challenges facing western democracies, his interactions with famous world leaders and the responsibilities of business to society.

“I would argue that the model of western democracy needs a transformation,” he said in 2013 at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, citing government’s inability to deal with rising income inequality as one threat.

At the same talk, he advised the audience on the importance of perseverance, saying the most successful people actually encounter failure and bad luck more than less successful people do.

“They’ve actually failed more … but they keep moving, they don’t stop,” he said.

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