North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s armoured train travelled across China as he went to his highly awaited second summit with US President Donald Trump in Vietnam.
Following his late father and grandfather, who took epic train trips when they were leaders, Mr Kim set off on the long journey from Pyongyang yesterday, with a military honour guard seeing him off in the North Korean capital.
His departure from the Pyongyang railway station was verified by North Korea’s official KCNA news agency, with official photos showing him waving from the train for what could be a 60-hour journey to Vietnam.
The train passed the border city of Dandong later that day, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency and the professional outlet NK News, but its route remained a tightly-held secret.
The train’s crossing into China follows days of thinking over Mr Kim’s travel plans, as his team assembled in Hanoi ahead of the talks expected next Wednesday and Thursday.
Accompanying the North Korean leader was right-hand man and top general Kim Yong-Chol, who met Mr Trump in the White House last month, along with many other top dignitaries, KCNA said.
Security was fixed before the train’s arrival in Dandong, with police cordoning off the border bridge area with tape and metal barriers, and leading an AFP journalist out of the area.
A hotel overlooking the bridge was closed for improvised renovations yesterday.
“The train is long and crossed the bridge slower than the tourist train, but it’s definitely him, there’s a lot of police presence,” an unnamed source told NK News.
Windows on the train were blacked out, the source said, with only headlights turned on as it crossed.
The train normally takes 13 hours to reach Beijing, but there were no signs of increased security around the railway station, meaning that the train likely bypassed the Chinese capital on the nearly 4,000km journey to Vietnam.
Mr Kim has met Chinese President Xi Jinping four times in the past year, preparing his country’s sole important ally before and after his historic points with Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
The North Korean leader, who last met Mr Xi in January, could be releasing their next meeting for his trip back to Pyongyang to debrief the Chinese leader.
Mr Trump and Mr Kim met in June in Singapore, producing a dubiously worded note on denuclearisation, but progress has since stalled, with the two sides differing over what the agreement meant.
Witnesses say real progress is needed in Hanoi to avoid the talks being rejected as a publicity stunt.
Mr Kim travelled to Singapore last year on a plane given by Beijing.
As Mr Kim travelled, delegations prepared for the summit, with US National Security Council official Allison Hooker spotted at a Hanoi hotel where members of the North Korean side have been seen in recent days.