OTTAWA - A senior official with the Afghanistan Task Force is on his way to China as Canada's new ambassador.

David Mulroney has worked as foreign and defence policy adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper since 2006. Mulroney, who is no relation to former prime minister Brian Mulroney, had been rumoured as front-runner for the China post.

The career public servant and diplomat takes on the job as the Conservatives try to mend fences with the rising economic powerhouse.

Relations have been rocky between Ottawa and Beijing since the Harper government criticized China's record on human rights and Tibet.

The rift culminated when Harper missed the opening ceremonies last year at the Summer Olympics in Beijing.

A recent trip to China by Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon was seen as preparation for a possible visit by Harper this year.

Mulroney will help smooth the way.

"David Mulroney brings foreign policy expertise and proven leadership to this position, making him ideally suited to represent Canada in our important relationship with China," Harper said in a statement.

"Mr. Mulroney has made an invaluable contribution to his country as deputy minister of the Afghanistan Task Force and he will continue to represent Canada with great distinction."

China is one of Canada's most important trading partners, behind the U.S., Britain and Japan.

Canada exported goods to China worth more than $10 billion in 2008, up more than nine per cent from the year before.

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