North replaces envoy to China after 6 months

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North replaces envoy to China after 6 months

Ji Jae-ryong, North Korea’s new ambassador to China, arrived at Beijing Capital International Airport yesterday, replacing an ambassador who lasted only six months.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency also announced Ji’s appointment yesterday.

“Ji Jae-ryong was officially appointed as the new ambassador to China today by the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly,” the agency said. It gave no further details.

An intelligence source in China said Choe Pyong-gwan, the former ambassador who started the job in April, visited China to report his resignation to Chinese foreign ministry officials and returned to North Korea Saturday.

As past North Korean ambassadors to China have occupied the job for many years, analysts said it was unusual for North Korea to replace its ambassador after only six months.

A source in Beijing said, “Ambassador Ji is expected to start work this week. The person who arrived at the Beijing airport was confirmed as the new ambassador.”

On Monday, Ji participated in a ceremony held in Pyongyang to mark the 60th anniversary of the Korean War. Sources said Ji, 67, received approval from the Chinese government as the new ambassador on Sunday.

Rumors spread in Beijing that former ambassador Choe could have had health problems. Other analysts said North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s successor, Kim Jong-un, may require a more senior ally as ambassador to China to enhance the countries’ friendship.

Analysts said Ji has a close relationship with Jang Song-thaek, Kim Jong-il’s brother-in-law, who is considered a kind of regent for the leader’s youngest son.

Ji studied Russian at Kim Il Sung University and served as ambassador to Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia in the 1980s. He then worked in the international affairs department for the Workers’ Party from 1993 as deputy manager dealing with countries of the former Soviet Union.

“China and North Korea have enjoyed closer relations since the sinking of the [South Korean naval ship] Cheonan, and especially after China endorsed the North’s succession plan,” an analyst said. “So North Korea replaced its ambassador with a higher-ranking official than Choe, because of the recent favorable relations between two countries.”


By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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