Shift in means of transport may signal changes under next North Korean leader
Beijing asked North Korea’s next leader Kim Jong-un to fly to China instead of using the train, which his father has resorted to for various reasons including safety, diplomatic sources in Seoul said, signaling changes in the traditional allies’ future relationship.
Kim Jong-un is expected to visit China as early as late April to make an international debut as his father Kim Jong-il’s successor and meet with his Chinese counterpart and vice president Xi Jinping, who is set to succeed President Hu Jintao next year.
The Beijing government informally requested that Pyongyang use an aircraft instead of the train which requires strict railway control and security measures on China’s end.
For security and health reasons, Kim Jong-il has always used his private armored train in his past six trips to China, prompting China to partially shut down railways and roads when Kim passes by certain segments. This has caused inconvenience for Chinese citizens, leading some to complain on the Internet.
The shift of transport for North Korea’s top leadership in visiting its closest ally and main provider of economic aid foreshadows the start of a new relationship between the two countries.
First of all, Jong-un’s trips to China will be more official and less secretive than his father’s.
“No other leader of a country travels in a train to visit another country,” said Yu Ho-yeol, professor of North Korean studies at Korea University.
“China has offered special treatment in terms of security and protocol for Kim Jong-il so far in respect of the two countries’ unique relationship, but (the latest request) hints that the bilateral ties will take a new dimension under the next leadership.”
Being a so-called “princeling,” or a member of “taizidang,” a group of children of China’s communist elite, Xi is known to have strong ideological roots and influence within the Communist Party of China.
Kim Jong-un is the grandson of Kim Il-sung, who founded the North Korean regime officially named the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“Kim Jong-un is likely to meet with Xi during his upcoming visit, probably after the anniversary of the foundation of the North’s military on April 25, and I believe Kim Jong-il could accompany his son depending on his health condition,” Yu said.
The proposed use of an aircraft, however, could make it harder for South Korea or the rest of the world to detect the visits in advance, according to Kim Tae-hyo, an aide to President Lee Myung-bak.
In the past, monitoring railroad situations in Chinese towns bordering North Korea such as Dandong has often allowed Seoul to detect Kim Jong-il’s visits to China a day in advance.
Presidential secretary Kim said, however, that he was not aware of China’s request for air travel, adding it was highly unlikely for Beijing to make such a demand.
By Kim So-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org)