Jeju (The Korea Herald/ANN) - Most Chinese leaders still do not know much about North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un, a former senior Beijing official said, indicating that there has been little high-level contact between Pyongyang and its only major ally.
Xu Dunxin, a leading member of Beijing's Foreign Policy Advisory Group, also said that Pyongyang's decision to launch a long-range rocket in April despite its opposition has made him more uncertain about the young leader.
"I have yet to meet him even though I met late President Kim Il-sung and (late National Defence Commission) Chairman Kim Jong-il. I think it is not just me who does not know much about him. Most Chinese leaders, I think, have not met nor know him," he told The Korea Herald last week.
"When it reached a deal (in February) with the US, we thought the situation (in the North) is good and will continue to be good. But after it was broken, we now cannot figure out (who he is). It is yet difficult to make any conclusion, and we need to wait and see," he said.
Xu was referring to the so-called Leap Day deal Pyongyang and Washington reached on February 29 to put a temporary moratorium on nuclear and missile tests in exchange for 240,000 tons of "nutritional assistance."
The deal, which was struck as a pre-step for the resumption of the multilateral denuclearisation talks, was broken after the North's rocket launch, which it claimed was a satellite liftoff for peaceful scientific purposes.
"We were happy and welcomed the deal as it was a deal between the two that had the lowest level of mutual trust compared with other members of the six-party talks," he said.
"We had already advised the North not to do that (fire the rocket), but sadly, it did not listen to our words. We have had friendly ties with the North, but we are not in a position to order or force it to do anything."
Xu, who formerly served as China's vice foreign minister and ambassador to Japan, came here to attend the 7th Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity. The three-day international forum ended on Saturday.
After the rocket launch, China agreed at the UN Security Council to adopt a presidential statement strongly condemning the North, a move which observers say is "unusual." Based on this, observers raised the possibility of Beijing recalibrating its approach to its wayward ally.
Xu, however, said that China's stance on the North remains "largely unchanged."
"There is no big change as our goal on the Korean Peninsula is denuclearisation and peace. We endorse anything that goes in line with this goal," he said.
"Some argue that China is overly protecting the North. But that is a perspective of the past, the perspective before Seoul and Beijing opened diplomatic relations. China is different at a time when the Cold War ended and ideological (disputes) do not exist any more."
On the issue of North Korean defectors, he expressed frustration over continuing allegations that China does not care about their human rights as it sends them back to the repressive state when caught in China.
"Their reasons for defection are not that simple: some in pursuit of freedom and others for survival. To be candid, in anyway, it gives us a serious nuisance," Xu said.
"As it has good ties with South Korea, China maintains relations with the North as well. We have our own law and have to uphold its dignity. When (defectors) violate it, it is an annoyance for us whatever situation or motivation they have."
Xu, in particular, said that many of the defectors appear to be migrants crossing the border for economic reasons, stressing that mentioning these human rights issues at a U.N. panel while targeting China is not "sensible."
"When we look at defectors, there are many who repeatedly crossed the border after being sent back, although there is talk of them being severely punished. There are more people crossing the border due to hunger."
"China respects human rights, which have continuously been enhanced within China. It is not right for people to say that China does not honor human rights."
Touching on the claim that the six-party talks it hosted to denuclearise Pyongyang have not born any fruits yet or failed, he stressed that there was progress in the multilateral framework. The talks involve the two Koreas, China, Japan, the US and Russia.
He also reiterated Beijing's stance that the major stumbling bloc in moving forward the talks is distrust between Pyongyang and Washington.
"There were outcomes that came out in steps. One of them is the joint statement on Sept. 19, 2005, which is the first of its kind within the talks. It is for peninsular denuclearisation, normalisation of ties and a mechanism for peace, which the six parties agreed to," he said.
"When the talks resume, they would start based on this agreement. Can we still say it did not make any progress? On top of that, Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests in the past did not result from the talks. They all took place while the talks were stalled."
Noting that the relationship between South Korea and China has improved quickly over the last two decades, he expressed expectation that the relationship will continue to be mutually beneficial in various sectors.
"If I draw an analogy between the 20-year relationship and a human being, it is like a person in his or her 20s ? a stage when we are still in the process of learning each other," he said.
"Ten or 20 years later, I believe more maturity, wisdom and autonomy will be added to our relationship with bigger aspirations."