Mystery train departs Beijing with no official word on whether Kim Jong Un was on it — and it’s a big win for North Korea

  • An armoured train that belongs to Kim Jong Un’s family has departed Beijing after causing huge delays with its visit to China.
  • But the world is no wiser as to why the train came and went – and that’s a big win for Kim.
  • Despite plenty of evidence suggesting Kim, or at least high-level North Korean officials, were aboard, China denied knowing about the train.
  • North Korea also said nothing, and South Korea appeared in the dark.
  • With everyone either ignorant of or covering for the journey, it allows Kim to control the narrative and possibly even smuggle back tons of goods in his train.

Kim Jong Un’s family’s armoured train has departed Beijing after causing huge delays in train and street traffic, but the world is no wiser as to why the train came and went – and that’s a big win for Kim.

Sources told Bloomberg News and Reuters that the train carried Kim, and a massive motorcade in the city suggests a high-level visit, but no South Korean, Chinese, or North Korean entity has confirmed what would be a historic visit.

Hua Chunying, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, said she had no idea who was on the train or in the motorcade. South Korea was “watching things in Beijing very closely, while keeping all possibilities open,” a Reuters report cited a senior official in Seoul as saying.

So despite a massively disruptive train and motorcade, Beijing knows nothing of the journey. Despite a massive intelligence organisation dedicated to tracking the movement of the Kim family, South Korea says it knows little about the trip. And despite the Kim family’s train leaving North Korea for Beijing, Pyongyang hasn’t said a word.

But the dense cloud of mystery surrounding the visit creates an ideal situation for Kim.

Besides concerns for Kim and his family’s personal safety, the hushed meeting perhaps suggests North Korea has enough leverage with China to have it keep the trip quiet, or enough finesse to orchestrate a massive move like this without alerting South Korea.

Not even trying to be sneaky, but still getting away with it

Experts tell Business Insider that sometimes diplomacy is best conducted in secrecy, to keep conversations candid and the pressure off diplomats.

But the trip wasn’t exactly subtle. Kim could have flown in on a plane and quietly landed in Beijing instead of delaying train traffic across northeast China, one of the more densely populated places on earth.

If anything, the trip recalls those Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, made in the 2000s, in that it used his own personal train, which moves slowly and requires a huge security detail.

Chad O’Carroll, the managing director of the Korea Risk Group, tweeted that a press blackout on Kim Jong Il’s trips was customary and suggested it may indicate that the younger Kim was indeed visiting the country this time.

The last time someone other than North Korea’s supreme leader took part in that train journey to Beijing was in 1983, when Kim Jong Il, not yet in charge, made the journey, Andray Abrahamian, the senior adviser to Choson Exchange, tweeted.

But there is perhaps a simple reason North Korea would send a train to China, and China would deny it: smuggling.

A train can haul more than a plane, and with all sides denying the visit for now, it’s unlikely inspectors could get a look inside to verify it wasn’t filled with banned items like luxury goods – or nuclear-missile components.