Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — A career diplomat with more than 30 years of service to Canadian Foreign Affairs was named ambassador to China by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday.
Jennifer May, who has been Canada’s ambassador to Brazil for three years, will take up a position in Beijing that has been vacant for nine months.
Ms. May, who holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and German from Laval University, joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1990. After learning Mandarin, in 2000 she began a four-year mission as a diplomat intermediate level, followed by stays in Hong Kong and Thailand. She also served overseas in Germany and Austria.
“A dedicated public servant, Ms. May has many years of varied experience in international missions,” the Prime Minister said in a statement. This experience, along with his extensive knowledge of Asia, will enable him to manage this important bilateral relationship and promote Canada’s interests in China.”
The appointment comes as Ottawa seeks to rekindle a now frosty relationship with Beijing, following the release of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig a year ago. But the Prime Minister specifies that Ms. May will have the mandate to “defend democratic values, human rights and the rule of law”.
In its “Departmental Plan” for 2022-2023, Global Affairs Canada says that “Canada’s strategic and evolving policy towards China” will be integrated into the broader strategy for the Indo-Pacific region.
The Ministerial Plan says Canada will use this framework to advance commercial interests, but “will confront the Government of China where the values and interests of the two countries diverge, and collaborate where interests converge.”
“Canada will continue to speak out against China’s repression against Uyghurs, Tibetans and all religious minorities,” reads the plan released earlier this year. On Hong Kong, Canada will continue to adapt its approaches in light of the rapid deterioration of the individual rights and freedoms of Hong Kong citizens since the implementation of the National Security Law in 2020.”
After “the two Michaels”
The last two ambassadors to China were both considered high-level political figures: first the former Liberal minister John McCallum, then the business leader Dominic Barton, who had been put in charge by Mr. Trudeau of the sensitive file, but critical, to get “the two Michaels” released.
Mr. Barton left his post last December, three months after the release of the two Canadians. Michael Spavor, a business consultant who worked in China, and Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat who worked in China for the International Crisis Group, were arrested in December 2018.
Canada believes it was political retaliation by Beijing after Canadian authorities arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver airport at the request of the United States.
The United States accused Ms. Meng, as well as the company Huawei, of violating American sanctions against Iran. MM. Kovrig and Spavor were arrested days after Ms. Meng was arrested in Vancouver. They were released in September 2021, after more than 1,000 days in detention, when the United States agreed to let Ms Meng return to China.
This dispute has seriously soured relations between Canada and China.