About the Author
Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
A train appearing to match the armored olive green one used by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during his visits to China arrived in Beijing on Monday, Japanese outlet Nippon TV showed.
Video of the train arriving at the station around 1500 local time was posted by Nippon TV, including images of a limousine accompanying passengers out of the station platform under heavy police escort.
Japanese news agency Kyodo also reported on Monday, citing unnamed sources, that a high-ranking North Korean official was set to visit China.
The PRC’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has reportedly declined to comment.
South Korea’s Presidential Blue House on Monday night said it was monitoring the situation, but would not confirm who was on the train.
“Our government has been keeping close tabs on the situation while closely communicating with concerned countries,” a spokesperson told press.
The video notably followed multiple reports Monday that security had sharply heightened at the Chinese border city of Dandong, which stands adjacent to the DPRK city of Sinuiju and could serve as a transit point for a North Korean visitor.
The two cities are joined by a rail bridge which was used by the late DPRK leader Kim Jong Il to kick off his visit to China in May 2010.
NK News pictures obtained Monday evening of Dandong station showed multiple hoardings unusually blocking one entrance of the station, while photos at the Daily NK showed a new and temporary construction around the back side of one platform.
The Daily NK said the hoardings were implemented to block onlookers from seeing trains pass from the North Korean side through the station.
However, station security told an NK News source the hoardings were there due to ongoing construction.
Meanwhile, an undated video posted on Twitter Monday showed a motorcade driving through Chang’an avenue, not far from Beijing train station. The video was annotated: “DPRK’s leader #KimJongUn visits Beijing on 26th March”
While reports are yet to confirm who is on the train, Kim Jong Il’s visits to China routinely came out of the blue and were neither confirmed by Chinese or North Korean state media until after the late North Korean leader’s train had arrived in China.
Ahead of Kim’s May 2010 visit to China, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) detected a “special train” at the Chinese border, prior to any DPRK or PRC state media reporting of the visit.
And ahead of Kim’s August 2011 visit to Russia and China, first reports of Kim’s train crossing the border came from South Korea’s spy service before confirmation from DPRK and Russian state media.
Breaking: North Korean armored train spotted at Beijing, China. Kim Jong Un probably on board. pic.twitter.com/p0Lij0Q1Wo
— Augustus Manchurius (@1984to1776) March 26, 2018
One expert said that while it was unclear who was onboard, the timing of what would be Kim Jong Un’s first visit to China since becoming DPRK leader in 2011 would tie into historical precedence.
“We don’t have confirmation that the train even exists, much less who is on board, but if it were to be Kim Jong Un, that should come as no surprise to anyone,” Chris Green, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Leiden, told NK News.
— gongjiejames (@jamesgongchina) March 26, 2018
Unconfirmed video posted on Twitter shows a VIP convoy driving through Beijing
“It took Kim’s father six years to set in place his domestic political and economic power structure, purging, executing and forcing into exile an array of challengers and Kim Il Sung era loyalists, and putting all remaining subordinates firmly under the (leader)’s thumb,” he added.
“Only once the process was complete did he begin engaging with outsiders. That was the year 2000.”
Edited by Hamish Macdonald and Oliver Hotham
Featured image: davidstanleytravel