- North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un is in Beijing, Bloomberg News quoted three sources as saying on Monday.
- Chinese social media had been swamped with rumours Kim was heading to Beijing, as a train in which he is believed to have ridden reportedly caused delays across northeast China.
- The Kim family has a history of travelling to Beijing via train, but this would be the first known time Kim has met another head of state or left North Korea since becoming supreme leader.
- President Donald Trump’s decision to accept a meeting with Kim may have prompted China to invite him for talks.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is in Beijing, Bloomberg News quoted three sources as saying on Monday.
The report comes after a mysterious train under high security left North Korea and arrived in Beijing to a locked-down station. The trip was followed by the emergence of a massive motorcade.
If Kim is in Beijing, it would mark his first known trip outside North Korea since becoming supreme leader in 2011 and a historic departure from years of deteriorating relations with China.
Since Kim took power, his aggressive pursuit of nuclear weapons has strained North Korea’s relations with China to the point where Beijing has little influence in Pyongyang. But Kim has recently expressed willingness to talk to South Korea and the US.
Yun Sun, a North Korea and China expert at the Stimson Center, told Business Insider that US President Donald Trump’s move to accept talks with Kim had elevated the North Korean leader’s status, most likely making China more eager to talk to him for fear of getting left behind in future negotiations to determine the fate of the Korean Peninsula.
What would a meeting between Kim and Xi mean?
China has anxiety about being left out of talks between North Korea and the US, as the outcome could lead to a unified Korea or a US presence in North Korea, both of which run counter to China’s strategic interests.
As leader of North Korea, Kim is believed to have never met with another head of state, and he even purged his own uncle in a brutal execution thought to be over his uncle’s ties to China and possible efforts to depose Kim in favour of a more China-friendly leader. If Kim is in Beijing, his trip is likely to include a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Despite the recent history of rough relations, China remains North Korea’s treaty ally and its main trading partner and point of contact with the outside world.
Additionally, as an ally, China could help secure guarantees of North Korea’s security with the US.
“North Korea understands that given the power disparity, even if they reach a deal with the US, and US forsakes that deal, there’s nothing they can do about it,” Sun said.
With Xi’s assurances, North Korea may feel more confident progressing in dialogues with the US after it gets “some external guarantee” of its safety, Sun said.
Sun also noted that the Korean War of the 1950s ended in an armistice, not a peace deal, and that as a party to that armistice, China may feel entitled to cooperate in any work toward a lasting peace deal.
China has taken part in past US-North Korea dialogues.
Evidence of Kim’s arrival
On Monday, video started to appear across social media of a train arriving in Beijing – and then of a motorcade exiting the train station.
The Chinese social-media platform WeChat was awash with rumours surrounding the journey, and Sun said the mysterious train’s trip “disrupted the whole railway schedule for northeast China, and people are observing that and drawing conclusions about who might be on that train.”
Whoever has arrived in Beijing got quite a motorcade: pic.twitter.com/qL1Q55Hnma
— Stephen McDonell (@StephenMcDonell) March 26, 2018
The Kim family has historically travelled to Beijing via train, with Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, making the trip several times toward the end of his life.