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Chinese Ambassador to Canada Cong Peiwu poses for a portrait at the Embassy of China in Ottawa on Oct. 20, 2023.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

China’s ambassador to Canada has ended his posting here, a departure taking place as one of Ottawa’s most senior diplomats is visiting China seeking a reset of relations.

Cong Peiwu, Beijing’s envoy to Ottawa since 2019 – through much of the strained ties between China and Canada – has informed the Department of Global Affairs and other diplomatic missions in the capital that he’s heading home, sources say.

The Globe is not identifying the sources, who were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.

Mr. Cong’s end of posting, which he told some in letters was April 9, was a surprise to some in the diplomatic corps because of its abruptness. Others in the ambassadorial community will often hold a series of farewell events with counterparts before they leave.

Meanwhile, deputy foreign affairs minister David Morrison is visiting China as part of an effort to bring about a rapprochement between Beijing and Ottawa – a trip that some see as a prelude to a visit by Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly.

Topics on the agenda for Mr. Morrison include illegal shipments to Canada of the deadly opioid fentanyl or ingredients to make it. China is a major source of fentanyl or precursor chemicals. More than 42,000 people have died from drug overdoses across Canada since 2016, according to the federal government. In 2023, 82 per cent of opioid deaths involved fentanyl.

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Last November, after a San Francisco meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden, China agreed to take measures to stop the shipment to North and South America of chemicals used in the production of fentanyl, as well as the pill presses employed in the process.

Mr. Morrison’s plan to discuss fentanyl with China suggests whatever accord was reached between China and the United States last fall wasn’t an adequate response for Canada. Last October, as the Washington Post has reported, the U.S. Treasury Department issued sanctions against a Vancouver company, alleging it was a distributor of illicit precursor chemicals and equipment and sought to obtain from China nearly 3,000 litres of chemicals used to make fentanyl, heroin and meth. The company’s owner has denied the allegations.

The Chinese embassy in Canada did not respond to questions about Mr. Cong’s departure but in a newsletter released Thursday it cast Ms. Joly’s recent conversations with her Chinese counterpart as her initiative, suggesting Canada is the supplicant seeking to renew ties. It said a Jan. 11 phone call with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Ms. Joly occurred “at the latter’s request” and said the same about a Feb. 17 meeting between Mr. Wang and the Canadian Foreign Minister in Munich.

Canada’s relationship with China deteriorated in late 2018 and has yet to recover. Ms. Joly has not visited China since she took over the foreign affairs post in October, 2021. The last Canadian foreign minister to visit China was Chrystia Freeland.

Relations between China and the West have faltered over Beijing’s crackdown on democracy and civil liberties in Hong Kong; its repression of Uyghurs, a Muslim minority group, in Xinjiang; and its increasing menacing of self-governed Taiwan. Starting in 2022, China has helped Russia weather Western-led sanctions for invading Ukraine by providing Moscow with international banking services and buying its oil and other commodities.

Paul Evans, a professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, said Canada’s allies are all sending high-level delegations to China, from New Zealand to the United States and Germany.

“Everybody’s doing it,” he noted. “We’re at the end of the line in either re-establishing or continuing those contacts with diplomatic counterparts, and doing it publicly.”

He said his hunch is Mr. Morrison’s visit “is a prelude to a step-by-step reconnection at the senior diplomatic level.”

The last few years have seen Canada and China disconnect. Last year, Ms. Joly expelled Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei after The Globe reported Beijing targeted Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong and his relatives in Hong Kong in an attempt to gain leverage over the MP. Mr. Chong had upset China by sponsoring a parliamentary motion to condemn China’s repression of Uyghurs.

Also, in 2023, Ms. Freeland halted Canada’s activity with the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and began reviewing its membership in the entity after its communications chief resigned and publicly accused the multilateral development institution of being an agent of Beijing.

Diplomatic relations between China and Canada remain very cool after a near-rupture in late 2018 when Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition request and Beijing locked up two Canadians – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – in apparent retaliation. The men were released in 2021.

Prof. Evans said bilateral trade between Canada and China continues to increase but the range of products exported are becoming narrower: more and more commodity-based. But what is not happening, he said, is an expansion of things such as trade in services.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that China began supporting Russia through sanctions imposed on it for invading Ukraine in 2002. That support began in 2022. This version has been updated.

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