A North Korean train unexpectedly rolled up in Beijing, Japan’s NHK reported earlier today (Mar .26), amid curious crowds and heavy security. Now Bloomberg is confirming the rumor that among the train’s passengers was none other than Kim Jong-un, the elusive North Korean leader, marking his first trip abroad.
Kim’s visit is secretive in typical North Korean style. The trip itself was unannounced. The reason for it is unknown. Who he will meet with, what will be discussed, and whether Dennis Rodman will be there, is anybody’s guess.
Meetings between Kim dynasts and China are new for Jong-un, but not new for North Korean leadership. Both his grandfather Kim Il-sung, and father Kim Jong-il, visited several times—apparently on similar-looking trains. But the timing of this trip suggests that the motivation for Kim’s visit to Beijing is his upcoming summit with Donald Trump. That meeting is supposed to take place by May, though some in the Trump administration think it might not happen (paywall) at all.
Regardless, the secretive Beijing arrival reveals that China was not going to passively give Trump the diplomatic victory of claiming Kim’s first foreign trip. Though China has at times seemed increasingly annoyed with North Korea, it remains the Kim dynasty’s only official ally, and the two countries share a long border. Having Kim choose the US and Trump—which are openly hostile toward North Korea—over China and Xi Jinping for his first foreign foray would have been embarrassing.
Another thing we don’t know: what carrots and/or sticks did Beijing have to give Kim to make the meeting happen so suddenly?