China scrubs social media as Kim Jong Un's train trundles south for Hanoi summit

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waving from his armoured train as he left Pyongyang on Feb 23  for a summit in Hanoi with US President Donald Trump.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waving from his armoured train as he left Pyongyang on Feb 23 for a summit in Hanoi with US President Donald Trump.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP) - Chinese censors raced to scrub online discussions about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's whereabouts on Monday (Feb 25) as his armoured train trundled southward to Vietnam for his summit with US President Donald Trump.

The secretive itinerary fuelled speculation on Twitter-like Weibo, as people posted about delayed trains, traffic congestion and road closures in Chinese cities through which Mr Kim's iconic olive green train is expected to pass.

Some seemed genuinely confused by the sudden shutdown of roads while others referenced Mr Kim's epic train ride through China - many choosing to use nicknames for the North Korean leader, such as "Boss Kim" or "Little brother Kim", potentially to avoid censorship.

The train, which has a top speed of 60kmh, set off from Pyongyang on Saturday (Feb 23) for a 4,000km journey that is expected to take 60 hours - the great majority of it across China.

"Those watching Leader Kim's Changsha road situation, has he made it to Changsha yet?" wrote one user, referring to the capital city of central Hunan province.

"Changsha friends, are you ready? This train is so slow," commented another. "Yesterday it arrived in Zhengzhou - it's only now made it to Wuhan."

Already, censors have started to erase or limit the visibility of Weibo posts on road closures, as Mr Kim's train route remains swathed in secrecy.

 
 
 

Some posts hashtagged "Zhengzhou road closures", for instance, have been blocked by the social media site, according to FreeWeibo, which tracks censored and deleted Weibo posts.

Other hashtags, such as "Changsha road closures", are not searchable, despite their use in Weibo posts.

The sighting of  Mr Kim's armoured train, which has tinted black windows and a yellow stripe, has set off a flurry of train-spotting.

According to South Korea's Yonhap news agency, the train passed through the northern coast city of Tianjin on Sunday (Feb 24) - an indication that Mr Kim bypassed Beijing, a destination he could visit on his way home to debrief China's President Xi Jinping about the summit.

A video posted via Chinese-language news portal Ifeng's Weibo account showed Mr Kim's train passing through Wuhan, in central Hubei province, early on Monday.

AFP could not verify the contents of the video.

Meanwhile, railway stops south of Wuhan have started to show signs of tightening security.

The train station on the Vietnam-China border where Mr Kim is expected to arrive by rail was closed to the public and surrounded by armed guards on Monday, as the South-east Asian country prepares for the North Korean leader's second summit on denuclearisation with US President Donald Trump.

But for people in China, the most disruptive part of Mr Kim's long journey south is delayed commutes, as local police clear roads ahead of his arrival by train.

"My heart aches for my Wuhan friends," wrote one user. "There was (traffic) control when Kim came during the morning rush hour - that's truly miserable."