HONG KONG • China has appointed a new pointman on North Korea affairs amid escalating tensions over its neighbour's nuclear ambitions and growing belligerence, said regional media reports and sources.
Mr Wu Dawei, China's top negotiator in the long-stalled six-party talks on reining in the North's nuclear programme, has been replaced by Mr Kong Xuanyou, an ethnic Korean who is currently the top Chinese diplomat in charge of Asian affairs, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported yesterday, citing diplomats in Beijing and South Korean and Japanese media.
While Beijing has yet to officially announce the appointment of Mr Kong as its special representative on Korean peninsula affairs, the report said, he has been heavily involved in China's efforts to de-escalate tensions over North Korea since being promoted to assistant foreign minister two years ago.
Mr Kong, 58, is a Japan expert with limited experience in dealing with both Koreas, said SCMP. But he is being entrusted with an almost impossible task: Reviving the six-party talks between China, the United States, North and South Korea, Russia and Japan.
It is "a thankless job, with almost insurmountable challenges at the moment, where no one seems to be talking from the same page, and where the risks of failure are very high indeed", Professor Kerry Brown, a former British diplomat, told SCMP.
The six-party talks were initiated by Beijing in 2003 and have been suspended since 2008, after North Korea boycotted further dialogue.
Mr Kong is an ethnic Korean born in Heilongjiang and a fluent Japanese speaker who served as top deputy to three Chinese envoys to Tokyo between 2006 and 2011. He later became ambassador to Vietnam, then head of the Asian affairs department in 2014.
Analysts believe Mr Kong has his work cut out for him. Besides having a difficult brief, his predecessor is seen as having had a patchy record on handling Sino-Korean relations, reported SCMP.
The 71-year-old was described by former South Korean nuclear envoy Chun Yung Woo as a hardline nationalist and China's "most incompetent official", according to a 2010 US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.
Under Mr Wu's watch, Beijing's ties with its neighbour have sunk to an all-time low. In an apparent snub after Beijing imposed a sweeping ban on coal imports from North Korea, its leader Kim Jong Un declined Mr Wu's scheduled visit to Pyongyang in April.