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Canada Embassy in Beijing set to be redesigned

Canadian Government is looking to make a big “medium- to long-term investment” in its Beijing embassy to relieve “growth pressure” on the mission

Canadian embassy in Beijing
Canadian embassy in Beijing | Photo © Benjamin Vander Steen

"Even amid frosty relations with China, Ottawa is looking to make a big “medium- to long-term investment” in its Beijing embassy to relieve “growth pressure” on the mission, according to a request for proposals posted by the federal government.

Ottawa is looking for a company in China to help put together a “forward-looking, ambitious, integrated and coherent” master plan to renovate its four-acre compound – partly to address the property’s evident security flaws.

In fact, a former ambassador to China said any new master plan for the embassy has to take into account “the security challenges that China poses.”

The request for proposals was posted to a government contracting site Tuesday and is seeking architects, engineers and urban planners to help design renovations and expansions that would maximize the use of the embassy grounds. A master plan, worth about $100,000, is expected to be delivered within a year of the contract being awarded.

“As one of the [Government of Canada’s] priority relationships, it is anticipated that the Beijing Mission will continue to see program growth in the short to medium term,” the documents say.

It’s a bullish vision for an embassy that has become emblematic of Canada’s fits-and-starts relationship with China. The embassy has grown, taken on new staff and added new programs, even as successive governments have grappled with Beijing’s abhorrent human-rights record.

New buildings were erected as part of initiatives to attract trade, investors and skilled immigrants, but they have become “overcrowded” over the past two decades, the solicitation documents say. A master plan for the embassy was drawn up in 2011 but never implemented.

The new expansion plans come as Ottawa appears paralyzed in its approach to President Xi Jinping’s government. A free-trade agreement and an extradition treaty have notionally been put on ice after a diplomatic row over the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the behest of Washington. Since then, Ottawa has been trying, without success, to free Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were apparently detained in retaliation.

Still, Canada’s ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, believes “the weight of the world is shifting and has shifted toward Asia, so we need to do more in China,” according to a speech he delivered last week.

The solicitation documents prepared by Global Affairs Canada certainly suggest there will be plenty of work for the mission on Dongzhimen Outer Street."

"The trade mission has been housed in temporary accommodations for more than a decade, and “a number of offices still contain bathtubs and other plumbing fixtures from the original residences,” the solicitation documents note.

Part of the mission had to be torn down and rebuilt around 2000, after earthquakes compromised the foundation. At least one of the new buildings, however, has seen “rapid deterioration” due to “the high pollution levels and poor quality of materials available locally.” The age and condition of the chancery, which houses the diplomatic mission, is also “of particular concern.”

The documents also reveal that Canada has had trouble recruiting and retaining staff at the embassy because of the poor quality of Beijing’s air, which has had a negative impact on employees' health and “overall morale,” the documents say. Air filters and monitoring equipment were installed in the official residences, and staff were provided masks."

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