Seoul/Hanoi: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made his way across China by train on Sunday, media reported, bound for a high-stakes second nuclear summit with United States President Donald Trump in Vietnam’s capital of Hanoi.
Few details of Kim’s trip have been announced but he left Pyongyang by train on Saturday afternoon for the February 27-28 summit accompanied by senior North Korean officials as well as his influential sister, North Korea’s state media reported.
Trump and Kim will meet in Hanoi eight months after their historic summit in Singapore, the first between a sitting US.
president and a North Korean leader, where they pledged to work towards the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
With little progress since then, the two leaders are expected to focus on what elements of North Korea’s nuclear programme it might begin to give up, in exchange for US concessions. In a rare, revealing coverage of Kim’s travel, while it is still going on, the North’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper featured photographs of him getting a red-carpet send-off in Pyongyang and waving from a train carriage door while holding a cigarette.
The extensive coverage in the secretive North’s official media was a contrast to the limited reporting that has traditionally prevailed during Kim’s foreign trips.
Other senior officials, such as his de facto chief-of-staff Kim Chang-son and Kim Hyok-chol, negotiations counterpart to US envoy Stephen Biegun, were already in Hanoi to prepare for the summit.
With scant progress since the June summit, the two leaders are likely to try to build on their personal connection to push things forward in Hanoi, even if only incrementally, analysts said. Both sides are under pressure to forge more specific agreements than were reached in Singapore, which critics, especially in the United States, said lacked detail.
“They will not make an agreement which breaks up the current flow of diplomacy. (President Trump) has mentioned that they’ll meet again; even if there is a low-level agreement, they will seek to keep things moving,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
Learning from Vietnam
The Trump administration has pressed the North to give up its nuclear weapons programme, which, combined with its missile capabilities, poses a threat to the US, before it can expect any concessions. North Korea wants an easing of punishing US-led sanctions, security guarantees and a formal end of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a treaty.
Few details of summit arrangements have been released. Some lamp posts on Hanoi’s tree-lined streets are decked with North Korean, US and Vietnamese flags fluttering above a handshake design, and security has been stepped up at locations that could be the summit venue, or where the leaders might stay. It could take Kim at least two-and-a-half days to reach Vietnam by train.
Some carriages of a green train were spotted at Beijing’s station on Sunday, but it was not confirmed it was Kim’s. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said Kim’s train had passed through a station in China’s port city of Tianjin, southeast of Beijing, around 5am GMT.
China has given no details of his trip. Its foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Kim may tour some economic facilities while in Vietnam. Vietnam, like North Korea, fought a war against the US and keeps tight control over its people and economy. It has been touted as a model for North Korea’s development. Vietnamese media reported that a North Korean cargo plane arrived on Sunday carrying personnel who appeared to be Kim’s security guards and state media workers. They were driven under police escort to a downtown hotel.