China Plays Diplomatic Musical Chairs in Northeast Asia

      January 11, 2010 12:06

      China's ambassadors to South Korea, North Korea and Japan are expected to be replaced almost at the same time. Ambassador Cheng Yonghua has been reassigned from Seoul to Tokyo, and his successor is believed to be Yang Houlan, a minister counselor who is well-versed in Korean affairs. Japan's Kyodo News on Friday said Liu Hongcai, a vice minister at the Chinese Communist Party's external liaison office, will be appointed as the next ambassador to North Korea.

      From left, Cheng Yonghua, Yang Houlan and Liu Hongcai

      The cause of the chain of reassignments is the retirement of Wu Dawei (64), China's chief delegate to six-party nuclear talks and a former ambassador to South Korea. With the ambassador to Japan, Cui Tiankai, being appointed as Wu's successor, Cheng, a Japan expert, is being dispatched to Tokyo, while Yang is being sent to Seoul.

      Yang is an expert on North Korea and also served for six years in South Korea as a deputy chief of mission. His appointment is raising hopes that inter-Korean relations will improve and the communist country will return to the stalled six-country talks.

      Liu Xiaoming, China's incumbent ambassador to North Korea, who is an expert on U.S. affairs, is being dispatched to London, while Liu Hongcai, a North Korea hand, is being cited as a replacement. 

      The fact that Yang's diplomatic rank is lower than that of the other ambassadors in other parts of Northeast Asia has raised concerns that China is placing less priority on South Korea. But the Chinese Embassy in Seoul on Friday said it was "inappropriate" to take issue with the low rank of the ambassador since there are hardly any high-ranking experts on South Korean affairs in China's Foreign Ministry.

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