Four Kims and the bodyguards: North Korea's trusted players in Hanoi

(Clockwise from top left) Mr Kim Yong Chol, Ms Kim Yo Jong, Mr Kim Hyok Chol and Mr Kim Chang Son will be with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi this week.
(Clockwise from top left) Mr Kim Yong Chol, Ms Kim Yo Jong, Mr Kim Hyok Chol and Mr Kim Chang Son will be with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi this week.PHOTOS: REUTERS, ST FILE

HANOI (AFP) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will be aided, guarded and advised by his most trusted team in Hanoi this week for his much-anticipated second summit with United States President Donald Trump.

Some of them are already in the Vietnamese capital preparing for his expected arrival early on Tuesday (Feb 26), while others joined Mr Kim on his epic train journey across China in his special armoured train.

Who are the cast of characters joining the North Korean leader and what role will they play in Hanoi? Here's a look.

THE RIGHT-HAND MAN

Mr Kim Yong Chol, a senior North Korean party official and the counterpart to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has been on the frontlines of the ongoing diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington.

He is seen as Mr Kim Jong Un's most trusted aide and is accompanying him on his olive green train en route to Vietnam.

Mr Kim Yong Chol flew to Washington with a letter for Mr Trump from the North Korean leader last month, after which the White House announced the second summit to break months of deadlock since the first meeting in Singapore last June.

 

He was in charge of overseeing negotiations in Singapore - the first-ever summit between the leaders of the US and North Korea - and likely remains a key player in Hanoi.

THE SISTER

Ms Kim Yo Jong has been at her brother's side since his debut on the international stage for a visit to Beijing last year and is once again travelling with him to Hanoi.

 

She has been on hand at all times - taking her brother's coat, studiously writing down his remarks, and handing him a pen for signing joint statements with leaders of China, South Korea and the US.

She grabbed headlines at the Pyeongchang Olympics last year as the public face of the North Korean delegation sent to the Games.

But she's also earned a reputation of unknowingly putting herself before the camera, straying into the shots of her brother and heads of states on several occasions before scurrying out of the picture.

THE ENVOY

Mr Kim Hyok Chol arrived in Hanoi one week ahead of the summit for preparatory talks with US special envoy Stephen Biegun.

 

A former North Korean ambassador to Spain - before he was expelled amid soaring nuclear tensions in 2017 - Mr Kim Hyok Chol was introduced as Mr Biegun's counterpart last month when he visited the White House with Mr Kim Yong Chol.

Mr Kim Hyok Chol and Mr Biegun have engaged in marathon negotiations and are expected to wrangle over the agenda of the summit - likely to include the terms of "denuclearisation" - until the actual day of the summit.

THE BUTLER

Mr Kim Chang Son is the de facto chief of staff to the North Korean leader, overseeing the security and protocol of key events attended by Mr Kim Jong Un.

Both the North Korean leader and his sister are reportedly very fond of Mr Kim Chang Son, who has served as the "trusted butler" to the Kim family under Mr Kim Jong Il - the late father and predecessor to Mr Kim Jong Un.

Mr Kim Chang Son arrived in Hanoi nearly two weeks ahead of the upcoming meeting, closely touring and inspecting prospective sites for the summit and the accommodation of the North Korean leadership.

THE BODYGUARDS

Around 100 North Korean bodyguards flew in from Pyongyang on Sunday as their leader was passing through China towards Hanoi, according to Vietnamese press.

 

The army of security officials remained at arms' length from Mr Kim Jong Un at his landmark meeting with Mr Trump last year - from the talks venues to when he roamed the streets of Singapore in a surprise night out on the eve of the summit.

The men - dressed in matching sharp black suits - earned the nickname of "human shield" at Mr Kim Jong Un's first summit with South Korea President Moon Jae-in, when a dozen of them trotted along next to his Mercedes-Benz.