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Speculation swirls over Kim's travel plans for Hanoi summit

  • Published at 09:41 pm February 19th, 2019
Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un poses for photos in Pyongyang, January 1, 2019 Reuters

Japan's Asahi TV reported that a North Korean team visited a rail station in a city near the China border and also surveyed road conditions in the area

Kim Jong Un could travel overland for his summit in Hanoi with US President Donald Trump, media have reported, after a North Korean delegation was spotted at key stops on a popular rail route from China.

Washington and Pyongyang have dispatched several teams to Vietnam ahead of the summit in Hanoi on February 27-28, though officials have remained tight-lipped on their movements and meetings.

On Tuesday, a Vietnamese source with knowledge of planning for high-level diplomatic meetings told AFP that several North Korean officials had visited the China border area on Monday.

"A team from North Korea was in Lang Son city on Monday. They travelled there from Hanoi by car," said the source, requesting anonymity.

Japan's Asahi TV reported that a North Korean team visited a rail station in a city near the China border and also surveyed road conditions in the area.

There is no airport in Lang Son city, prompting a swirl of speculation that Kim may make the long, overland train or road journey from China to Vietnam.

Next week's meeting follows a landmark summit between Trump and Kim in Singapore last June, the first for sitting leaders of the US and North Korea - who are technically still at war.

Kim travelled to Singapore on a plane lent by Beijing for the last summit, and normally moves in an armoured train when he travels to Beijing.

Long journey

The nearly 4,000km journey from Pyongyang to Hanoi, via Beijing and Lang Son, could take upwards of 60 hours on a passenger train.

But according to a source cited by Seoul-based NK News website, a rail trip could create "too many problems on the way," since Kim's slow train could disrupt China's high-speed rail network.

Another option for Kim's trip could be to travel by rail to Beijing - a trip he has made several times - and then fly to Hanoi.

The ultra-secretive North Korean leader has not publicly confirmed next week's meeting with Trump in Hanoi, which will be his first visit to Vietnam.

His grandfather Kim Il Sung was the last North Korean leader to come to Vietnam in 1964.

Police-accompanied motorcades have been spotted on Hanoi's motorbike-packed streets as the communist capital prepares for the event that is expected to draw thousands of journalists and delegates.

On Tuesday, workers were seen hanging North Korean and American flags outside a government guesthouse and the Metropole hotel in the city centre.

The venue for the meeting has not yet been announced, though Yonhap reported Tuesday that Pyongyang did not favour the large National Convention Centre, citing security concerns.

North Korea's special representative for the US, Kim Hyok Chol, is expected to arrive in Hanoi in the coming days to meet with his US counterpart Stephen Biegun later in the week.

Alex Wong, US deputy assistant secretary of state for North Korea, is already in the Vietnamese capital preparing for the summit.  

Observers say tangible progress is needed at the second summit after the first meeting produced vaguely worded promises on North Korea's nuclear disarmament with few concrete deliverables.