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Dominic Barton attends the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, January 18, 2017.

Ruben Sprich/Reuters

The Official Opposition is calling for the Canadian ambassador to Beijing appear as the first witness before a special committee in this minority Parliament, which was set up to probe the prolonged diplomatic crisis between Canada and China.

The Conservative Party has written Dominic Barton notifying him of the possibility he may be asked to testify as soon as late January, saying it considers his presence “critical to the committee’s work.”

Two Canadians remain locked up in China, victims of what critics have widely called “hostage diplomacy,” Chinese purchases of canola seed are still significantly down, and Beijing last year warned that there will be consequences if Ottawa bans flagship tech firm Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. from supplying gear to this country’s next-generation 5G wireless networks.

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Conservative MP John Williamson said the party also wants to know what is constraining the Canadian government from taking a more prominent role in criticizing the persecution of Uyghurs in China – where an estimated one million are detained in internment camps – as well as the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in semi-autonomous Hong Kong.

He said MPs also want Mr. Barton to provide an update “on the two Canadians who are being held illegally and the reopening of access to Chinese markets.”

Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor were both detained by Chinese authorities in December, 2018, in apparent retaliation for the Trudeau government’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition warrant.

The Chinese government has repeatedly warned Canada publicly that relations will not return to normal until Ottawa sets Ms. Meng free.

The Huawei chief financial officer’s extradition hearing begins this week but the process has the potential to drag on for years, including appeals.

The special committee will meet on Parliament Hill on Monday to discuss next steps.

The Conservatives circulated the proposal among other parties.

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NDP spokesman George Soule said the New Democrats support calling Mr. Barton as the first witness. Bloc spokeswoman Carolane Landry said the party will consider it.

The minority Liberal government opposed the formation of this committee and voted against its creation in December, but it was outnumbered by opposition votes as the Bloc Québécois and NDP backed the Conservative motion. Because the Liberals no longer have a majority of seats in the Commons, they have less control over votes and committees.

In December, before the vote, Kevin Lamoureux, parliamentary secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, played down any strain in relations. “There are highs and lows. I would suggest that the relationship between Canada and China is good, and that … ministers are doing a great job of protecting Canada’s interests.”

Rob Oliphant, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and a member of the special committee, said MPs will determine the agenda and the witness list in the coming days.

U.S. authorities accuse Ms. Meng and other Huawei executives of lying to banks so that they would clear transactions with Iran through the United States despite U.S. sanctions.

China arrested Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor on allegations of national security offences only days after Ms. Meng was detained. Ms. Meng is free on bail and living in one of her two Vancouver homes while the Canadians are locked in prison cells with the lights on 24 hours a day.

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Canada is still mulling whether to ban Huawei from participating in this country’s next generation of wireless networks, as the U.S. and Australia have. The Americans and Australians say Huawei answers to China’s ruling Communist Party and could be compelled to help Beijing spy or sabotage Western networks. Chinese law says companies must “support, co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work" when asked.

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