US-schooled diplomat posted to Pyongyang
Paul Mooney in Beijing
A US-educated Chinese diplomat with no experience in the Korean peninsula will be China's next ambassador to North Korea, according to a South Korean report.
The Dong-A newspaper reported on Monday that Liu Xiaoming, a graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Boston and ambassador to Egypt since 2001, would be appointed ambassador to Pyongyang in the second half of this year.
He would replace 66-year-old Wu Donghe 'as soon as diplomatic procedures are finished'.
A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Beijing said yesterday he had no information about the appointment. He did not deny the report.
Dong-A described the appointment of the American-trained diplomat, who served in the Chinese embassy in Washington from 1998 to 2001, as 'unprecedented'. It quoted unnamed analysts who said the decision to name Mr Liu ambassador marked a significant shift in Beijing's relations with Pyongyang, saying it heralded China's new, stronger emphasis on Sino-US ties and international relations in dealing with the North Korean issue.
A foreign diplomat in Beijing defended the appointment, saying Mr Liu was a seasoned diplomat and that having someone experienced in dealing with the US might help to smooth the difficult relations between Washington and Pyongyang.
The newspaper said Mr Liu, 50, would be the youngest Chinese ambassador to be sent to Pyongyang. His predecessors were all in their 60s.
According to the Foreign Ministry's website, Mr Wu is also a member of the ministry's Leading Group, in charge of discipline inspection.