Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has chosen Jennifer May to be Canada’s new ambassador to China, filling a nearly year-long vacancy in the key diplomatic post, sources told CTV News.
The government could announce May’s appointment as early as Friday.
In taking on this new role, she will become Canada’s leader in managing a strained relationship with China.
May, who until August was Canada’s ambassador to Brazil, joined Canada’s foreign ministry more than 30 years ago. During her career, May has held a series of positions, including Executive Director of Defense and Security Relations, Director of Eastern Europe and Eurasia Relations, and served in Bonn, Hong Kong, Beijing, Vienna, Bangkok and Berlin.
Canada has been without an ambassador to China since late 2021, when Dominic Barton left the offices in Beijing.
Asked by CTV News a few months ago about the delay when Canada passed the six-month mark without an ambassador, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly’s office had promised that a representative would be named in “when the time comes”, saying officials continued to engage with China at the “highest levels”.
At the time, former ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques said the notable absence was an indication that the federal government “doesn’t understand” the value of a strong diplomatic presence on the ground.
“Having an ambassador gives you intelligence…because here is a person who can have access to high-level information [information] that other people at the embassy cannot,” he said. “You are depriving yourself of all this useful information.”
Barton publicly announced his resignation on December 6, 2021, just months after helping secure the release of former diplomat and entrepreneur Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
The two men were arbitrarily detained and held in a Chinese prison for over 1,000 days. Their arrests are widely seen as retaliation for the arrest in Vancouver of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou following an extradition request from the United States.
These events launched what would become almost three years of frosty relations between Canada and China.
May’s appointment comes just before Canada marks the first anniversary of the release of the two Michaels.
It was late at night on September 24, 2021 when Trudeau gave a national speech, announcing that Kovrig and Spavor had boarded a plane in China with Barton, and “they are on their way back.”
With files from CTV National News Ottawa Bureau Chief Joyce Napier, CTV National News Producer Mackenzie Gray and CTVNews.ca Producer Sarah Turnbull