Mercurial North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Tuesday made an unprecedented whirlwind trip to Beijing -- his first foreign trip since he took over power in 2011 -- and reported to have held talks with the top Chinese leadership ahead of his planned summit with United States President Donald Trump.
While the foreign ministry in Beijing parried questions over his reported visit which threw the road and rail traffic in Beijing out of gear, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post quoted Chinese ‘sources’ confirming that Kim visited Beijing.
“It wasn’t his sister, it was Kim himself,” the paper quoted a source as saying.
Kim is reported to have left by the “distinctive green train” to Pyongyang by which he had arrived earlier.
A beaming Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying parried a volley of questions about Kim’s visit at a packed daily briefing today, saying that she is not aware of his visit and would get back in “due course” if she gets the details.
“If we have information, we will publish it,” Hua said.
The first hint that the mystery guest was Kim was the appearance of the green train of the type favoured by North Korea’s senior leadership, which was seen travelling from the border city of Dandong to Beijing, the Post reported.
Earlier, media personnel rushed to the plush Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, where foreign dignitaries usually stay as it was cordoned off with heavy security. Local people were told to avoid the area.
While reporters were held back behind a cordon a few hundred metres away, a motorcade reportedly carrying Kim was spotted passing by Tiananmen Square, apparently en-route to the Beijing railway station, it said.
North Korean leaders preferred to visit China, their closest ally, secretly or without much publicity through selective leaks by the Chinese officials. Kim’s late father Kim Jong-il too used to visit China secretly.
This is Kim’s first overseas visit since he took over power in 2011 after his father’s death.
Though allies, the China-North Korean relations went through some testing times since Kim took over as the supreme leader of the country as he pressed ahead with his nuclear programme disregarding caution from Beijing.
He also shared an uneasy relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping over the implementation of UN sanctions leading to serious crisis of essential commodities in North Korea.
Tensions temporarily abated in the Korean Peninsula recently over the North Korea’s nuclear programme following which Trump agreed for a summit meeting with Kim.
Observers say that Kim’s visit was due as it is diplomatically inconceivable for him to meet Trump without ever meeting Xi, who is now set to become leader for life after the recent constitutional amendments removing the two term limits for the Chinese president.
Though North Korea remained a long-standing ally of China, relations between the two countries have been strained after Beijing beefed up UN sanctions by blocking essential supplies like oil and coal following pressure from Trump.
Observers say the severity of sanctions made Kim to tone down his rhetoric on acquiring nuclear weapons and consider the option for talks with US.