Canada names Jennifer May as its first female ambassador to China

By Steve Scherer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada on Friday appointed Jennifer May its first female ambassador to China, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, taking over a role that has been open since December of last year amid ongoing diplomatic tensions with the Asian economic powerhouse.

May is a veteran diplomat with 30 years' experience, Trudeau said in a statement. She most recently served as Canada's ambassador to Brazil, and during her career has worked in the Canadian missions in Beijing and Hong Kong.

"Ms. May will lead Canada's important work in standing up for democratic values, human rights, and the rule of law," Trudeau said. "Her work will be key to advancing Canadian priorities in the Canada-China relationship."

In 2019, Canada named Kirsten Hillman, another career diplomat, to be its first female ambassador to the United States.

On Thursday, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly told diplomats meeting in New York that she would "soon" put forward a new Indo-Pacific strategy aimed at engaging with China on trade and climate change, while competing in other areas like critical minerals, and confronting it on human rights issues.

Recently, a planned trip by Canadian lawmakers to Taiwan and the sailing of a Canadian frigate through the Taiwan Strait have irked Beijing, but tensions between Canada and China have been running high for years.

In May, Ottawa banned the use of 5G gear from China's Huawei Technologies Co due to national security concerns. Trudeau delayed the Huawei decision in 2019 because he was reluctant to move until the fate of Canadians held on espionage charges in China became clearer.

Following Canada's detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in 2018, Beijing arrested two Canadians on spying charges. The standoff ended in September 2021 when all three people were released after U.S. prosecutors reached a deal with Meng.

Canada also has a very large Chinese immigrant community. More than 1.8 million Canadians are of Chinese origin, and Chinese languages are the most spoken languages in Canada after English and French.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Jan Harvey)