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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived at the Vietnamese border station of Dong Dang on Tuesday morning ahead of a landmark second summit meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump.
Kim was welcomed with a ceremony attended by Vietnamese officials and military members at the small station near the country’s border with China just after 0815 local time, having traveled for over 60 hours on his armored train through China.
Some North Korean officials already in Vietnam also greeted Kim Jong Un, including his chief secretary Kim Chang Son and special representative for U.S. affairs of the State Affairs Commission (SAC) Kim Hyok Chol.
The DPRK leader then walked a red carpet from his train lined by a military guard and people waving the North Korean and Vietnamese flags before boarding his Mercedes S Class limousine on the way to Hanoi.
The visit is the third to Vietnam by a North Korean leader, with Kim Jong Un’s grandfather and the country’s founding President Kim Il Sung having visited in 1958 and 1964.
Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Mi, in turn, visited Pyongyang in 1957.
Kim Jong Un smiles and waves to the crowd of young Vietnamese before getting in his armored limo pic.twitter.com/llAhFkmQqP
— Josh Smith (@joshjonsmith) February 26, 2019
This visit is also Kim’s sixth overseas trip since taking power in 2011, following four visits to China and one to Singapore for his first summit with President Trump in June last year.
Of those six trips, three are confirmed to have taken place by train — with the DPRK leader having, notably, used an Air China’s Boeing 747-400 to fly to Singapore.
The almost three-day train trip is also Kim’s longest journey to a foreign country since coming to power.
North Korea’s state-run media on Sunday morning reported on Kim’s departure from Pyongyang, with the Korean Central Television (KCTV) broadcasting footage of the DPRK leader boarding the train at around 1630 local time the previous day.
Kim and Trump are set to hold their first meeting Wednesday evening, likely extending into the next day, in a summit which is widely expected to see the U.S. offer low-level sanctions relief in exchange for further cosmetic steps towards denuclearization from the North.
Also likely on the table are initial steps towards formally ending the Korean War, with South Korea’s Blue House on Monday saying it sees an “end-of-war declaration” as a likely outcome of this week’s talks.
President Trump is expected to arrive in Hanoi by Air Force One later on Tuesday, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was reported to have landed in the Vietnamese capital earlier in the morning ahead of Kim Jong Un’s arrival at the border.
“Heading over to Vietnam for my meeting with Kim Jong Un,” President Trump tweeted ahead of his departure. “Looking forward to a very productive Summit!”
THE VIEW FROM HANOI
The North Korean leader departed the train station in an armed car flanked by bodyguards, and is now expected to take the two and a half hour long , 170 km (105 miles) drive to the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi.
He believed to be set to stay at the Melia Hotel, with his meeting with U.S. President Trump expected to take place at the Hanoi Metropole Hotel.
Road closures surrounded the Melia Hotel on Tuesday morning, NK News observed, with armored personnel carriers positioned on an adjacent backstreet and two clusters of journalists forming at the blockades.
Meanwhile, security was also noticeable at the Hanoi Metropole Hotel, which had DPRK and U.S. flags posted above one of the entrances.
While fewer journalists could be seen there, authorities on early Monday were roping off sidewalks near the hotel, suggesting a motorcade would likely be passing later on in the day.
ECONOMIC VISITS IN THE WORKS?
Kim is widely expected to spend some time in Vietnam making a number of economy-related visits.
Though his itinerary is yet to be officially confirmed, Reuters reported on Monday that Kim is expected to visit a local manufacturing base in the Bac Ninh Province, as well as the nearby port city of Hai Phong.
A visit by Kim Jong Un’s chief secretary Kim Chang Son to a nearby Samsung factory last Sunday, too, raised speculation that the DPRK leader will tour the facility while in Vietnam.
An inspection of local economic facilities by the North Korean leader would likely bolster hopes in both Seoul and Washington that Kim intends to follow a model of reform and opening up — particularly if he visits a South Korean-owned business.
The prospect of major economic growth for North Korea has in the past year been raised as a potential reward should Pyongyang relinquish its nuclear weapons.
Sunday saw President Trump tweet that the DPRK stood to become a “great economic power” should a diplomatic detente continue.
The choice of location for this week’s summit is also auspicious, with Vietnamese deputy prime minister and foreign minister Pham Binh earlier in the month saying that Hanoi is keen to share its experiences of socio-economic development with the DPRK.
Many have pointed to Vietnam’s program of economic reforms in the 1980s — known as Doi Moi — as a potential model for Pyongyang, though others have expressed skepticism that Kim Jong Un would be willing to pursue the political liberalization such a policy shift would entail.
Previous trips China and Singapore by the North Korean leader also saw visits to economic facilities.
A visit to Beijing in January, for example, saw the North Korean leader visit the Chinese traditional medicine Tong Ren Tang factory.
During a prior visit to Beijing in June last year, Kim visited a agricultural technology innovation park run by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), as well as the Beijing rail traffic control center.
One day before a meeting with Trump just a week earlier, the North Korean leader made a surprise night visit to Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands hotel and Esplanade Bridge, among other locations.
The North Korean leader was accompanied on his four-day trip by eight top officials, as well as other lower-level bureaucrats and staff.
Leading that delegation is Kim Yong Chol, one of several vice-chairmen of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and a top U.S.-DPRK interlocutor, having recently met President Trump in Washington DC in January.
Ri Su Yong, who serves as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), foreign minister Ri Yong Ho, and minister of the People’s Armed Forces No Kwang Chol, too, are among the group.
Also onboard were Kim Yo Jong, the sister of the North Korean leader and a first vice department director at the WPK Central Committee, and vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui.
Two notable additions to Kim Jong Un’s entourage are Kim Phyong Hae and O Su Yong, who both serve as vice-chairmen at the WPK Central Committee. Neither attended last year’s summit in Singapore.
Both are seen as economic and political technocrats: Kim heads ruling party’s cadre affairs department, while O serves as director of the WPK’s economic affairs department, according to information provided by South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MOU).
O’s presence is particularly notable: Kim Jong Un’s visit to Hanoi will also see him make an “official friendly” visit and he is widely expected to meet with local officials to discuss economic reform.
The DPRK leader’s entourage now joins a number of other officials reported to have arrived in Vietnam in the few weeks, including chief secretary Kim Chang Son and a large security detail.
Also in Hanoi and believed to be ironing out the final logistical details of the summit are Kim Hyok Chol, DPRK Special Representative for U.S. Affairs of the State Affairs Commission (SAC), and diplomat Pak Chol.
Additional reporting by Chad O’Carroll and Colin Zwirko
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: NK News