North Korea’s Kim Jong Un visits China in first foreign trip: reports

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Speculation has been that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un went on Monday on his first foreign visit since assuming power in 2011. This would confirm earlier reports from Japanese media that a high-ranking official from Pyongyang had traveled to Beijing by train.

Nippon News Network had aired footage earlier on Monday of a 21-car train with green paint and yellow stripes, the same design of train used by Kim’s late father Kim Jong Il when he visited China in 2011.

There were heightened security measures all around Beijing, including closing off Tiananmen Square — something that usually happens only when Chinese leaders are meeting foreign heads of state in the Great Hall of the People. Changan Avenue, a major artery in the capital, was also closed off.

Read more: Is a Trump-Kim meeting a recipe for disaster? Or so crazy it just might work? 

But was it Kim?

A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman told the press she was unaware of reports that Kim was visiting Beijing, while North Korea’s state-run media has carried no reports of a delegation traveling to China. White House spokesman Raj Shah meanwhile said the US could not confirm reports that Kim was visiting China.

South Korean analysts were doubtful the visitor was Kim Jong Un, suggesting it was unlikely he would sneak into China for his first face-to-face meetings with the Chinese leadership. One expert said it was more likely Kim had sent a special envoy, possibly his sister Kim Yo Jong.

The envoy could potentially seek Chinese commitment for future support should North Korea’s talks with rivals fall through, Du Hyeogn Cha, a visiting scholar at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies told The Associated Press.

China has long been the isolated nation’s closest supporter. However, ties have become strained after Beijing backed United Nations’ sanctions against North Korea for its missile program.

Kim’s visit came ahead of planned talks with rivals South Korea and the United States, aimed at soothing tensions that have increased since US President Donald Trump entered the White House. Kim is set to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in next month, which could be followed by a sit-down with Trump.

es/jbh/rt (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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