China has appointed former Ambassador to Britain Liu Xiaoming as the country’s special representative for Korean Peninsula affairs, the Foreign Ministry said Monday.
The move comes as Beijing and Pyongyang have pledged to bolster bilateral relations, with their respective ties with the United States showing few signs of improving anytime soon since President Joe Biden took office in January.
Liu, also a former ambassador to North Korea, is expected to double as China’s chief representative in long-dormant six-party talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear issue, which involve the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
The six-party talks were launched in 2003 but have not been convened since December 2008. North Korea pulled out of the framework in 2009, protesting U.N. condemnation of its nuclear and missile programs.
Since the beginning of this year, the Communist-led Chinese government and North Korea, led by leader Kim Jong Un, have sought to deepen their cooperation to resist political pressure from the new U.S. administration.
When North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan on March 25 in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions banning Pyongyang from using any ballistic technology, the leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping refrained from condemning it.
China is one of five veto-wielding permanent members on the Security Council.
Late last month, days after China and the United States held two-day foreign ministerial talks through March 19 in Alaska, Xi and Kim exchanged messages and reaffirmed the necessity of strengthening relations between the two neighbors.
No breakthrough had emerged from the U.S.-China gathering, leaving strained bilateral ties that started to deteriorate following a tit-for-tat trade war waged by Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.
North Korea’s official media quoted Xi as telling Kim then that China is ready to “provide the peoples of the two countries with a better life,” indicating Beijing’s willingness to supply economic assistance to Pyongyang.
Earlier this year, China tapped Wang Yajun, a senior official of the ruling Communist Party, as the new ambassador to North Korea, while Pyongyang appointed Ri Ryong Nam, a former trade minister, as the nation’s new envoy to Beijing.