North Korean leader Kim Jong-un leaves Beijing after surprise visit
Security returns to normal in Chinese capital as armoured train pulls out with head of restive state on board
Security at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse and Beijing railway station quickly returned to normal on Tuesday afternoon after the distinctive green train carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong-un set off on its return journey to Pyongyang.
A little over two hours after the armoured express was reported to have pulled out it was business as usual, according to South China Morning Post journalists at the scene.
Two sources, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, confirmed that the mystery guest was Kim.
“It wasn’t his sister, it was Kim himself,” one said.
The Chinese foreign ministry has yet to confirm the visit by Kim or any North Korean delegation.
An official at the International Department of Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, which deals with North Korea relations, told the Post he had no information on the issue.
It is traditional for visits to China by North Korean leaders to be announced only after they have left the country.
The agenda of Kim’s visit – his first foreign excursion since coming to power in 2011 – is still unknown.
It came, however, amid easing tensions on the Korean peninsula, after officials from the North and South agreed to hold talks, and US President Donald Trump gave the green light for direct negotiations with the head of the restive state.
Relations between Pyongyang and Beijing have been strained as a result of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and missile launches. North Korea was also 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.
However, Beijing remains a key economic backer of the North Korean regime.
The return to normal security levels on Tuesday was in marked contrast to the scenes in Beijing on Monday, when motorcades and roadblocks were seen across the city. Security has also been intensified on the China-North Korea border.
The first hint that the mystery guest was Kim was the appearance of the green train of the type favoured by North Korea’s senior leadership, which was seen travelling from the border city of Dandong to Beijing.
The roads around the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse – where foreign dignitaries usually stay – were cordoned off on Monday and local people were told to avoid the area.
Reporters were held back behind a cordon a couple of hundred metres away, as a convoy of vehicles accompanied by police motorbikes left the compound about 9.30am on Tuesday and returned about two hours later.
Later, the motorcade was spotted passing by Tiananmen Square, apparently en route to the railway station.
Reporting by Laura Zhou, Liu Zhen, Minnie Chan and Catherine Wong