Kim Jong-un is in Beijing on first-known trip outside North Korea since 2011, say multiple sources
A high police presence in Beijing and at the North Korean border suggested a high-profile diplomat was in China; now sources say Kim is actually in the country
Kim Jong-un is visiting China in what is his first trip outside North Korea since 2011, multiple sources have told Bloomberg.
The reports come after a heavy police presence was noted at the border of China and North Korea, and at a Beijing hotel popular with foreign dignitaries, according to sources who spoke to the South China Morning Post.
The sources - who did not wish to be named due to the sensitivity of the information - could not immediately confirm how long Kim would be in China or who he would meet while there, Bloomberg and Reuters both said. The Post could not independently verify the claims.
The claims come after reports earlier on Monday suggested that a high-profile figure had made the journey into China.
While it has yet to be confirmed if the person is Kim himself, the security arrangements suggest it is someone of great significance.
At the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, where foreign dignitaries usually stay, there has been a marked increase in police activity, with a large number of officers and about 50 vehicles seen in the area. Nearby roads have been cordoned off.
Sources said that security had also been stepped up in recent days in Dandong, Liaoning province, a city in northeastern China that borders North Korea, in preparation for a train carrying the official passing through.
Beijing has yet to confirm whether a North Korean official is visiting. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was unaware of the issue.
The Kyodo news agency cited unnamed sources as saying the official’s visit was aimed at improving ties with Beijing.
The White House said on Monday it could not confirm the media reports about Kim’s possible Beijing visit.
“We cannot confirm those reports. We do not know if they were necessarily true,” White House spokesman Raj Shah told a press briefing.
Shah said the US’s “maximum pressure campaign” against Pyongyang, in conjunction with dozens of other countries, has brought the North Koreans to the [negotiation] table.
The US is “looking forward to [a] potential summit” with North Korea in the future, the spokesman said, referring to US President Donald Trump’s upcoming meeting with the North Korean leader.
A spokesman at the US State Department declined to comment.
Relations between Pyongyang and Beijing have been strained as a result of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and missile launches. North Korea was dismayed that China endorsed UN Security Council resolutions, and Pyongyang has never sent a high-level official to its long-time ally under Kim’s rule.
If the mystery guest turned out to be Kim himself, it would also be his first foreign visit since becoming North Korea’s supreme leader in 2011.
In Beijing, a car with a diplomatic number plate allocated to the North Korean embassy was spotted on Monday near the Great Hall of the People, Kyodo reported.
Footage from Nippon News Network, owned by Nippon TV, showed what an announcer described as a green train carriage with yellow horizontal lines, part of a 21-car train, similar to the kind that Kim’s late father, Kim Jong Il, rode when he visited Beijing in 2011.
Beijing has traditionally been the closest ally of secretive and isolated North Korea. But Kim is due to hold summit meetings separately with China’s rivals, South Korea and the US.
“Such a visit would reflect China’s effort to get back in the game,” said Scott Snyder, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank. “Xi would not tolerate being third in line to meet Kim.”
Asked earlier at a daily news briefing about reports of an important North Korean visitor arriving at the Chinese border city of Dandong, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she was unaware of the situation.
Nobody answered the telephone at the North Korean embassy in Beijing on Monday evening.
“The government is closely communicating with relevant countries and monitoring the situation,” South Korea’s presidential Blue House said in a statement via a messaging app earlier on Monday.
News of the official’s visit comes amid easing tensions on the Korean peninsula, after officials from the North and South agreed to hold talks, and Trump gave the green light for direct negotiations with Kim.
The plan for Trump and Kim to meet triggered concerns in Beijing that China’s influence over Pyongyang was diminishing. But former Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida said China still had a significant role to play on the North Korean nuclear issue.
The subject of Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions was likely to be high on the agenda at an upcoming summit between China, South Korea and Japan, which was likely to be held in early May in Tokyo, Fumio Kishida told the South China Morning Post.
Kishida said that as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and North Korea’s main trading partner, China retained considerable leverage over Pyongyang.
“The most important item on the agenda [for the trilateral summit] is peace and stability in Asia, including the North Korea issue,” he said on the sidelines of an investment conference last week.
“This is the area where the three countries have to work together,” he added. “China’s influence over North Korea remains quite significant.”
The move by China, which accounts for more than 90 per cent of North Korea’s foreign trade, to ban imports of textiles and seafood, and exports of oil products from its secretive neighbour in compliance with United Nations sanctions was welcomed, Kishida said.
“China is taking proactive measures to implement the decisions of the United Nations. We welcome those efforts,” he said. “To solve the North Korea issue, China has to work together with the rest of the world.”
President Xi Jinping met South Korea’s national security adviser Chung Eui-yong two weeks ago, and said that the North Korean nuclear crisis was at a crossroads, and that Washington and Pyongyang should hold direct talks as soon as possible.
China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, will visit Moscow on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss “key international and regional issues” with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Monday.
Additional reporting by Minnie Chan and Zhenhua Lu