Beijing residents left in the dark during Kim Jong-un’s unexpected visit
A spate of road closures and unusually tight security led residents to correctly speculate the North Korean leader was visiting the Chinese capital
Beijing’s citizens were left guessing just what was happening in the capital amid a spate of road closures and tight security measures as official outlets remained tight-lipped for hours about the persistent rumours that Kim Jong-un was in town.
Residents living near one of the most heavily guarded buildings in the Chinese capital reported unusually tight levels of security.
The roads around the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse – where foreign dignitaries usually stay – had been cordoned off and residents said that on Monday they had been told not to wander around the area
Many locals in this district of west Beijing described the measures as “unusual” and one road sweeper said the levels of security were “even stricter than during the Two Sessions”, the recent gathering of officials for their annual parliamentary meeting.
As reporters were held back behind a cordon a couple of hundred metres away, a convoy of vehicles accompanied by an escort of police on motorbikes left the compound at around 9.30 on Tuesday morning, returning just over two hours later.
Residents said security measures such as closing the local roads were normally lifted after VIPs had left the compound, but this time the roads remained closed.
The unusually strict measures, coupled with the arrival in Beijing on Monday of a green train of the type favoured by North Korea’s senior leadership fuelled the rumours, later found to be correct, that it was Kim himself.
As reporters and social media users scrabbled for clues as to who the visitor was and what he or she was doing, there was little sign of any unusual activity in Tiananmen Square, the capital’s political heart.
The usual stream of tourists were milling around the square, while the Great Hall of the People appeared to be open to visitors.
But in Zhongguancun, a tech hub in the northwest of the city that has ambitions to be China’s silicon valley, something unusual appeared to be afoot.
Residents and local workers took to social media to complain about a spate of unexpected road closures that many blamed for making them late for work.
But any broader speculation as to what was going on was strictly prohibited on the country’s tightly controlled social media.
Searches for “North Korea” in Chinese on Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter, were returned with a message saying “no results were found” on Tuesday morning, while posts about the mysterious trip circulated on the Weixin messaging platform that went up on Monday were deleted overnight.
Beijing had not confirmed whether any high-level officials were visiting from Pyongyang, much less the widespread claims that it was Kim himself.
At the time, the Communist Party’s international liaison office said it had “no relevant information” and South Korea’s presidential office was unable to confirm whether the train that arrived in Beijing on Monday night carried Kim or separate reports that the visitor was actually his sister.
On Tuesday afternoon the motorcade was once again spotted on the streets of Beijing passing by Tiananmen Square apparently en route to the railway station where the train that arrived on Monday night was waiting.
Reporting by Laura Zhou, Liu Zhen, and Catherine Wong