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China’s top envoy to Japan suggested on Sunday that there was only a slim chance of a resumption in six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear programme.

“It is like a tunnel.

I feel we haven’t found the end yet,” ambassador Cheng Yonghua said on the sidelines of the annual political advisory body meeting.

Following North Korea’s nuclear test and rocket launch earlier this year, China last week backed the United Nations’ “toughest” sanctions yet on Pyongyang.

But Beijing has also urged its neighbour to give up its nuclear weapons programme and return to six-party talks, which also include South Korea, Japan, Russia and the United States.

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Six rounds of the talks were held between 2003 and 2007 before North Korea pulled out and resumed its nuclear programme.

“At the moment we have not yet found a mechanism better than the six-party talks,” said Cheng, who was also Chinese ambassador to South Korea from 2008 to 2010.“When the talks were on, we made some gains. When they’re off, problems keep occurring one after another.”

Cheng said the six-party talks could help lay out a safe and stable blueprint for Northeast Asia. He urged all parties to go back to the negotiating table to resolve the problems through dialogue.

READ MORE: North Korea responds to ‘toughest ever’ sanctions by launching short-range missiles into the sea

Cheng also said the prospect of a meeting between President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Nuclear Security Summit in the US in the end of this month depended on the leaders’ schedule and whether the two sides could move towards improving bilateral ties.

“The reason we can’t improve our relations lies in how Japan looks at China’s development,” he said.

Japanese media speculated last year that Cheng, who has spent six years in Japan as China’s ambassador, would succeed Wu Dawei as special representative for Korean peninsula affairs. Wu was China’s top negotiator in many of the six-party talks.

When asked about his next role, Cheng said his present mission was his existing job.

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