Things are getting heated up at the Korean peninsula ahead of the planned summits between North and South Korea and the US as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is reportedly in China.
If reports are to be true, then this would be Kim’s first ever trip outside his country after coming into power in 2011.
“The presidential Blue House is watching things in Beijing very closely, while keeping all possibilities open,” said the senior official in Seoul, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Improving bilateral ties between North Korea and China would be a positive sign before the planned summits, he said.
A reporter had seen a convoy leave Beijing’s Diaoyutai State Guest House, where senior foreign leaders often stay on visits to the Chinese capital, and drive north on Tuesday morning. It was unclear where the convoy was headed.
The diplomatic sources in Beijing believe it to be Kim, but they could not confirm the same. Another source claim that it was possible that Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, was in the city. She had earlier visited South Korea during the Winter Olympics.
Meanwhile, a South Korean news agency reported that Kim Yo Jong and the North’s ceremonial leader, Kim Yong Nam, were visiting Beijing, citing an unidentified North Korea-related source in Beijing.
The pair visited South Korean President Moon Jae-in at his office in Seoul during the Winter Olympics in February.
The details of Kim Jong Un’s visit remains in the dark, while Japanese media reported that a high-ranking Pyongyang official appeared to have arrived by train in Beijing.
The Blue House official said the South Korean government had been aware of “related movements” in North Korea, such as the train, for a few days but he could not confirm whether Kim or another high-ranking North Korean official was visiting China.
Beijing is North Korea’s biggest and strongest ally, apart from being its main trade partner. China has not confirmed any visit by a North Korean but has not totally censored speculation Kim himself might be in town.
Kim is due to hold separate summits with South Korea in late April and the United States in May, including a potential meeting with Trump.
“The fact that the summits are being held has been beyond our expectations. Right now, the situation surrounding the Korean peninsula is moving very quickly and it would be inadvisable to think with prejudice,” the Blue House official said.
“North Korea likely wants to confirm its relationship with China and believes it has some leverage with which it can ask for things from China,” said Yoo Ho-yeol, Professor of North Korean studies at Seoul’s Korea University.
“If North Korea speaks with the United States on its own it might feel it is at a disadvantage but, if it has China as an ally, Pyongyang may think it will be able to protect its interests and profits during the summits,” Yoo said.