Why is Kim Jong Un taking a 60-hour train trip to meet Donald Trump in Vietnam?

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waving as he boards a train in Pyongyang that is bound for Hanoi, on Feb 23, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Security personnel stand near the Dong Dang Railway Station, where North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is expected to arrive by train, in Dong Dang, Vietnam, on Feb 25, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is on his way to Hanoi, Vietnam, for his second summit with United States President Donald Trump this week.

While every movement of the isolated communist leader is a subject of attention, questions have been raised as to why Mr Kim has chosen a 60-hour train ride, over a plane journey that would take just three or four hours.

Mr Kim started off on his long train trip last Saturday afternoon (Feb 23), departing from Pyongyang's train station at around 4.30pm.

If Mr Kim were to take the train all the way to Dong Dang station in Vietnam - from where he is expected to transfer to a motor vehicle to complete the trip to Hanoi - the train ride is expected to take approximately 60 hours.

From Dong Dang Station in Lang Son Province, it will take about three hours to reach Hanoi by car. The straight-line distance between Pyongyang and Hanoi is 4,500km.

Experts believe one of the reasons Mr Kim is taking a train to Hanoi is because it is how his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, North Korea's founder, travelled for his visits to Vietnam in 1958 and 1964, using airplane and train to reach Hanoi via China. Mr Kim is often seen to replicate his grandfather to reinforce the idea that he is a successor of the Kim regime.

As the train passes through China, the trip is also viewed as a way for North Korea to boast its close ties to its ally.

The armoured train is also thought to be a safer choice for Mr Kim, as North Korea's state jet Chammae-1 is old and there is a lack of experienced pilots.

The Chammae-1 is a Soviet-era IL-62M that is capable of travelling up to 10,000km. When Mr Kim travelled to Singapore by plane for his first summit with Mr Trump in June 2018, he did so on a plane borrowed from the Chinese government.

Mr Tak Hyun Min, the former protocol presidential aide for South Korean President Moon Jae-in who recently returned as an adviser, said having the leader take a train was an "excellent choice" of the North Korea's protocol team.

"First, they made Kim's transportation the news. They have created enough stories with their soldiers lined up in train stations, and with the historical meaning of travelling by train from North Korea to Vietnam," Mr Tak wrote in his Facebook post on Monday.

"And having the world, and us, witness the simple fact that the railroad in Pyongyang is connected all the way to Vietnam, it excites us with thoughts that a train that departs from Busan would be able to pass through Pyongyang to reach south-eastern Asian countries, including Vietnam."

The train Mr Kim is on is often referred as a "special hotel" that can move. The train, which has a label DF-0002 differs from the model that his father Kim Jong Il took, which had the label DF-0001.

The special train is reportedly built with high-level of security facilities and a hotel-like interior.

Mr Kim is expected to arrive in Vietnam on Tuesday. Reports speculate that he may also stop at other areas in Vietnam on his way to Hanoi, to inspect some of the industrial sites there.

The summit between Mr Trump and Mr Kim is scheduled on Wednesday and Thursday, but details have not been released.

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