Canada names career diplomat as new ambassador to China amid fraught relations

WATCH: China may have committed 'crimes against humanity' against Uyghurs: UN report

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has appointed career diplomat Jennifer May as Canada’s new ambassador to China as relations remain fraught.

In a press release on Friday morning, the Prime Minister’s Office announced the appointment of May, who has worked as a diplomat for 30 years across three different continents. Most recently, she was Canada’s ambassador to Brazil starting in 2019, and has worked in Canada’s embassy in Beijing before.

“As Ambassador to China, Ms. May will lead Canada’s important work in standing up for democratic values, human rights, and the rule of law,” the statement announcing her appointment said.

“Her work will be key to advancing Canadian priorities in the Canada-China relationship, including supporting the long-standing people-to-people, economic, and business ties between our two countries.”

The appointment marks a return to form for the post, which has traditionally been held by career diplomats but has seen political appointees — business executive Dominic Barton and former Liberal cabinet minister John McCallum — fill the last two openings.

That shift comes as relations between Canada and China remain fraught exactly one year after the release of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor from Chinese detention.

Barton left the post last December, three months after they were released. Spavor, a business consultant who was working in China, and Kovrig, a former diplomat who was working in China for the International Crisis Group, were arrested in December 2019.

Canada believes their arrests were political retaliation because Canadian authorities arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of the United States.

The U.S. accused her and Huawei of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. Kovrig and Spavor were arrested days after Meng was taken into custody in Vancouver. The two men were released as part of a deal when the U.S. agreed to let Meng return to China.

The dispute did serious harm to Canada-China relations.

The government is making clear May’s orders also include “advancing Canada’s work” to stand up for “democratic values, human rights and the rule of law.”

Global Affairs Canada has what it refers to in its current departmental plan, an “evolving China policy framework” that will be set up within the broader development of a total Indo-Pacific strategy.

The departmental plan says Canada will use the framework to advance trade interests, but will “challenge the government of China when values and interests diverge and co-operate where interests align.”

“Canada will continue to speak out against China’s repression of the Uyghur and Tibetan peoples, and of all religious minorities in China,” reads the plan, which was published earlier this year.

With files from the Canadian Press

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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