BEIJING (Reuters) - China has appointed a new special envoy for the North Korean issue, Assistant Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou, its foreign ministry said on Monday (Aug 14), after regional media had reported on the appointment.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that Kong had taken over from Wu Dawei, who has turns 71 in December, but that there was no connection between the appointment and the current situation on the Korean peninsula, where tensions have been rising in recent days.
There would be no change in China's policy towards the Korean peninsula because of the new appointment, Hua added.
Kong, 58, is an ethnic Korean from the north-eastern Chinese province of Heilongjiang, who has overall responsibility for Asian affairs at the foreign ministry, according to his resume.
He has held senior positions at the Chinese embassy in Japan and from 2011 to 2014 he was China's ambassador to Vietnam, two countries with which China has often troubled relations.
Kong 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.
Korean and Japanese media had reported on Kong's appointment since earlier this month even before Beijing's confirmation.
Asked whether Kong had any immediate plans to visit Pyongyang, spokeswoman Hua said she had no information about that.
Tension on the Korean peninsula eased slightly on Monday as South Korea's president said resolving the North's nuclear ambitions must be done peacefully and key US officials played down the risk of an imminent war with North Korea.
Concern that North Korea is close to achieving its goal of putting the mainland United States within range of a nuclear weapon has underpinned a spike in tension in recent months.
China is North Korea's closest ally, but it has been infuriated by its repeated missile and nuclear tests and has signed up for increasingly tough UN sanctions on the isolated nation.
However, China says sanctions are not the final way to resolve the issue, and has repeatedly called for a return to diplomacy and the restart of a six-party talks process with North Korea, which includes China, the two Koreas, the United States, Russia and Japan, and which collapsed in 2008.