North Korea

China’s secrecy over Kim Jong-un’s visit was part of a long-standing tradition

Observers said they noted increased security presence in border city of Dandong last week, which was exactly how visits by North Korea’s former leader Kim Jong-il always started

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 March, 2018, 10:17pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 March, 2018, 11:37pm

The secretive nature of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s visit to Beijing this week was in keeping with tradition, military observers said on Wednesday.

“I was told that security was being stepped up in the border city of Dandong in Liaoning province last week, and that sparked speculation in military circles about [a possible visit by] Kim,” a Beijing-based military source, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, told the South China Morning Post.

The rumour mill sprang into action, because the increased security presence was exactly the same as it had been on the many occasions when Kim’s late father, Kim Jong-il, visited Beijing, he said.

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“It’s common practice to keep North Korean leaders’ whereabouts a secret, because Kim is terrified that the United States or another hostile nation will try to take him out.”

The first reports of Kim’s visit to Beijing came on Monday evening from overseas news outlets and mainland Chinese social media after a distinctive green train – carrying Kim, his wife Ri Sol-ju and the rest of his team – was spotted passing through Dandong.

Another military source told the Post that Pyongyang had asked Beijing to keep Kim’s trip a secret.

The visit certainly came as a surprise to Australia’s former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who said he was attending the China Development Forum at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse – where Kim stayed while in Beijing – when he was “kicked out” about 3pm on Monday.

“This was not consistent with normal polite Chinese practice,” he said in a speech at the Asia Society in Hong Kong on Wednesday. “None of us knew there was a more important guest about to arrive.”

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He said that as the rumours began to circulate, he and his colleagues realised it might be Kim, as “it was unlikely to have been Vladimir Putin”.

The Pyongyang-based Korean Central News Agency said Kim’s visit to China lasted four days, although he spent a large portion of that time travelling – North Korea’s armour-plated state trains usually travel at just 60km/h (37mph).

In Beijing he held formal meetings and went on tours, including one to the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Zhongguancun, the city’s hi-tech hub.

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Cui Zhiying, director of the Korean Peninsula Research Centre at Tongji University in Shanghai, said every detail of Kim’s visit was painstakingly planned in a great show of Chinese hospitality.

“Like his father, Kim has always had an interest in science and technology, so a visit to the CAS was a must for the North Korean leader’s schedule,” he said.

Beijing-based military expert Zhou Chenming said, however, that China was unlikely to transfer any of its new technologies to its reclusive neighbour, as Pyongyang was far more in need of labour intensive industries.

“Pyongyang needs to help its 25 million population earn a living as soon as possible, just as China experienced in the early days of its opening-up in the 1980s,” he said.

“Beijing hopes the North and South [Korea] can improve their relationship, as Seoul could then transfer some of its downstream industries to Pyongyang, which would help ease the country’s poverty problem.”

Additional reporting by Sarah Zheng