A chief negotiator for the Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement has been appointed as the country’s next top envoy to the city amid strained ties between Beijing and Canberra exacerbated by the national security law.

Elizabeth Ward, a senior career officer with the Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, was officially appointed to lead the consulate in Hong Kong on Sunday, following reports that she had undergone delays in getting her visa approved by local authorities.

In April, the Australian Financial Review reported that Ward had been appointed as the new consul general to Hong Kong and Macau earlier this year, but the new role had not been formally announced due to the visa delays.

While the Australian government declined to comment at the time, Deputy Consul General Ryan Neelam had been acting in the top role since February, when the outgoing chief, Michaela Browning, departed.

Last Friday, the official residence of the Australian consul general to Hong Kong at Deep Water Bay was broken into. Preliminary investigations suggested three men were involved in the break-in, but no items were found to be missing.

Ward, who was Australia’s chief negotiator for the Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement, most recently served as the country’s first assistant secretary in the Trade, Investment and Business Engagement Division. She has previously served in Washington, New Delhi and Cairo.

Announcing Ward’s appointment on Sunday, Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said: “Australia has extensive interests in Hong Kong, built on strong trade and investment connections and long-standing people-to-people links. Hong Kong is home to one of the largest Australian communities in Asia.”

Hong Kong, which signed the free-trade agreement and an investment agreement with Australia in January this year, was the fifth-largest source of the country’s total foreign investment in 2019.

But Australia’s relations with China and Hong Kong have worsened in the wake of Beijing’s imposition of the sweeping national security law on June 30.

In July, Australia said it would suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and give 10,000 Hongkongers on student and temporary visas a pathway to permanent residency in response to the controversial new law.

The move prompted Hong Kong to suspend extradition and other criminal justice cooperation agreements with the country, alongside Britain and Canada, in tit-for-tat retaliation for similar actions they took against the city.