China has appointed a new special envoy for Pyongyang who will be tasked with defusing the crisis in the Korean peninsula amid a war of words between the US and North Korea, the mainland's foreign ministry said.
Assistant Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou replaces Wu Dawei, who retired as China's top negotiator in the six-party talks that have been on hold since North Korea withdrew from them in 2009. Wu, 70, served the position for more than 13 years and retired after overseeing China's largely futile efforts to rein in the belligerent North Korean regime.
Kong, 58, who now takes over the tough job, is currently the top Chinese diplomat in charge of Asian affairs at the foreign ministry, Reuters reported.
The ministry officially announced Kong's appointment on Monday (14 August). But the diplomat is known to have been heavily involved in Beijing's efforts to de-escalate tensions in the Korean peninsula for the past two years from the time he was promoted as assistant foreign minister.
However, Kong's appointment has no connection to the ongoing tension in the region, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
It is not known yet if the new envoy will visit North Korea any time soon but Hua said there will not be any change in Beijing's policy towards Pyongyang because of Kong's appointment.
Kong previously served as China's ambassador to Vietnam from 2011 to 2014 and at the Chinese embassy in Japan. China has often had troubled relations with both the countries.
China is North Korea's closest ally, but the mainland has also been infuriated with the Kim Jong-un regime because of its repeated missile launches, defying the UN Security Council resolution.
Beijing, along with the 14 other member states of the Security Council, unanimously agreed to slap new stricter sanctions against North Korea after Kim Jong-un tested the second intercontinental ballistic missile late in July. The punitive economic sanctions are meant to hit the impoverished country hard and slash its $3bn (£2.3bn) annual export revenue by a third.
Following the fresh sanctions, China announced on Monday that its ban on North Korean imports such as iron, iron ore and seafood would come into the effect on Tuesday (15 August).
Meanwhile, North Korea on Monday summoned its ambassadors to major nations like China, Russia and the UN, for a meeting. South Korean officials believe that this could be a regular meeting as the country is facing increased international pressure to abandon its missiles programmes.