China Names New Ambassador to North Korea Amid Troubled Ties

China has appointed a second senior official from the party diplomatic agency that traditionally deals with North Korea as new ambassador to its ally amid troubled bilateral relations.

Li Jinjun, deputy head of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee’s International Department (IDCPC), replaces Liu Hongcai as top envoy to North Korea, according to a brief statement released on the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on March 18. President Xi Jinping made the appointment in line with decisions made by the top national legislature.

Ties between Beijing and Pyongyang are at their lowest in history as the latter has been conducting nuclear tests and testing missiles in defiance of existing United Nations resolutions, which Beijing supports. The top leaders in both countries, Xi and Kim Jong Un, haven’t paid visits to each other yet. In a move widely considered as a snub to Pyongyang, last July Xi became the first Chinese president to visit South Korea ahead of its northern neighbor.

The party’s International Department, in charge of diplomatic matters with political parties in other countries, is of the same rank as the foreign ministry. Set up in 1951, one of its chief functions is to handle foreign relations with other communist countries, including North Korea.

North Korea is such a peculiar party-state country that it’s more effective to go via party-to-party channel,” said Shi Yongming, an associate research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing who specializes in the Korean Peninsular studies. “The IDCPC has a long experience of working with North Korea and the Chinese leadership would like to tap that to better coordinate its diplomacy with its wayward neighbor.”

German Student

Li, 59, will be the second Chinese ambassador to North Korea chosen from the IDCPC. His predecessor Liu Hongcai, 60, who ended his five-year mission in North Korea in February, is now deputy head of the department. Liu was with IDCPC before he became top envoy to the North.

Li studied German at Shanghai International Studies University in the early 1970s. He has served as ambassador to Myanmar from 2001 to 2005 and envoy to the Philippines from 2005 to 2007.

China sent its first ambassador to Pyongyang in 1950. Li will be the 17th.

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