BEIJING - The Air China Boeing 747 jet that flew North Korean leader Kim Jong Un from Pyongyang to Singapore on Sunday (June 10) was provided at the country's request, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Monday (June 11).
Mr Geng was asked at a regular press briefing whether the plane was loaned to North Korea for a fee or free.
Refusing to divulge any details, he would only say: "At the request of the DPRK (North Korea), the Civil Aviation Administration of China provided the relevant service to the country's delegation travelling to Singapore."
Hong Kong's Apple Daily reported on Monday that the plane is a private jet that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang uses when he goes on overseas visits.
North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) also reported on Monday that Mr Kim, Chairman of the State Affairs Commission, had left the country on a "Chinese plane for his personal use", a disclosure that analysts say is uncommon because of the country's ideology of self-reliance.
The Boeing 747 jet had initially left Pyongyang as flight CA122 bound for Beijing. Its flight number was changed an hour later without it landing in the Chinese capital.
It became CA61, bound for Singapore where the historic summit between North Korea and the US would be held on Tuesday.
The Korea Herald reported that four Boeing planes are used by Chinese political leaders: B-2443, B-2445, B-2447, B-2472.
Chinese President Xi Jinping's plane is the B-2472, while Mr Kim was on Mr Li's which is the B-2447, a 23-year-old aircraft that serves as a normal passenger carrier when not in use by the Chinese Premier.
Mr Kim has his own private jet, the Chammae-1. It is an Ilyushin Il-62, a Soviet long-range jet airliner.
North Korea expert Zhang Liangui, a professor of international strategic research at the Communist Party's Central Party School, told The Straits Times Mr Kim might have sought help from the Chinese because of safety concerns about the condition of his jet.
"The North Korean plane might not have travelled such a long distance before. For China to provide them with an aircraft for safe transport is a very natural thing," he added.
The Chinese-language Global Times, or Huanqiu Shibao, said the use of a Chinese plane was "quite symbolic".
In an online editorial on Sunday, it said China has played an irreplaceable role and provided crucial help in North Korea's march towards the world.
"China is also the main party that has helped the Trump-Kim summit overcome various issues, allowing it to be finally held," it added.