Chinese ambassador leaves posting in Canada as Ottawa pushes to improve ties

The federal government has confirmed China’s ambassador to Canada has left his posting as one of Ottawa’s top diplomats tries to thaw relations between the two countries.

Years of tense developments have strained Canada-China relations

A man wearing a blue suit looks into the distance while microphones surround him
Ambassador of the People's Republic of China to Canada Cong Peiwu participates in a roundtable interview with journalists at the Embassy of China in Ottawa, in 2019. Global Affairs Canada has confirmed Cong has left his posting. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Global Affairs Canada has confirmed China's ambassador to Canada has left his posting as one of Ottawa's top foreign affairs bureaucrats tries to thaw relations between the two countries.

Cong Peiwu served as China's ambassador to Canada since 2019. The news was first reported by the Globe and Mail on Thursday.

During Cong's tenure, Canada's relationship with China became strained amid a series of tense developments, including Beijing's detention of Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig from late 2018 until fall 2021.

Their arrests were widely seen as retaliation for the Vancouver arrest of Huawei's chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, on a U.S. extradition warrant.

In October 2023, Global Affairs Canada said the Chinese government was behind a propaganda campaign targeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre.

Three men shake hands and chat
Cong, centre, speaks with Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre, left, commander of the Canadian Army, and Lt.-Gen. (Ret'd) Guy Thibault, right, before participating in a panel at the Ottawa Conference on Security and Defence in Ottawa, in 2020. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Canada's spy agency also says it believes the Chinese government interfered in both the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa has yet to confirm the departure of its ambassador.

Ottawa sends representative to improve ties

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly's office has confirmed her deputy minister David Morrison is in China now.

But Global Affairs Canada has not released an itinerary for his visit.

The Globe and Mail first reported earlier this week that the purpose of Morrison's trip is to improve ties between the two countries.

Canada's lack of dialogue with China has made it an outlier compared to Western allies and other G7 countries that have regular, high-level exchanges with Beijing.

But despite the tense relationship, both countries have made recent statements pledging to communicate and collaborate with each other.

An older man wearing a blue tie and suit looks into the camera.
David Morrison of Global Affairs Canada appears as a witness at the Public Inquiry Into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions in Ottawa, on April 4. Ottawa has sent Morrison to China as part of a push to reset relations. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

In January, Joly spoke with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi about the Israel-Hamas conflict, Russia's invasion of Ukraine and co-operating in the fight against climate change.

That discussion came months after Trudeau said a rapprochement with China would be impossible due to concerns over foreign interference.

After Joly's conversation with Wang, Canada and China released statements recognizing ongoing diplomatic strains, but they pledged to maintain open communication channels.

Global Affairs Canada has said Conservative MP Michael Chong was a target of a co-ordinated smear campaign that likely was backed by China. He said Friday he "hopes the government is approaching the relationship [with China] with a great deal of caution."

"I think it's time for a clear-headed approach that focuses on protecting our interests, protecting our citizens and ensuring we uphold our values," Chong said.


Benjamin Lopez Steven is a reporter and part-time writer for CBC News Network. He's also a recent journalism graduate from Carleton University. You can reach him at benjamin.steven@cbc.ca or find him on Twitter at @bensteven_s.

With files from The Canadian Press