HANOI (REUTERS) - Vietnam is preparing for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to arrive by train for his summit in Hanoi next week with United States President Donald Trump, two sources with direct knowledge of security and logistics planning told Reuters on Wednesday (Feb 20).
It could take Mr Kim at least 2½ days to travel the thousands of kilometres through China by train, from the North Korean capital of Pyongyang to Vietnam, meaning he would have to set off later this week in time for his planned Feb 25 arrival.
Mr Kim's train will stop at the Vietnamese border station of Dong Dang, where he will disembark and drive 170km to Hanoi by car, the sources said.
According to a report on online news portal NK News on Tuesday, Mr Kim's armoured train would likely need to travel from Pyongyang to the Chinese border city of Dandong and then on to capital Beijing. From there, Nanning, a city in southern China, is next, before crossing into Vietnam at the Lang Son border and on to Hanoi.
Separately, three other sources with direct knowledge of the summit preparations told Reuters the preferred location for the Feb 27-28 meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Kim is the Government Guesthouse, a colonial-era government building in central Hanoi.
All five sources who spoke to Reuters said the plans were subject to change. The sources were not authorised to speak to the media because of the sensitivities surround the secretive North Korean leader’s travel plans.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc told the summit organising committee on Tuesday that security during the summit was “top priority”, Vietnam’s government said on its website on Wednesday.
The Metropole Hotel, opposite the Government Guesthouse, will be a back-up location for the summit, two of the sources said.
Last Saturday, a Reuters witness saw Mr Kim's close aide, Mr Kim Chang Son, visiting the Government Guesthouse and the Metropole and Melia hotels in the centre of the capital.
The leader could possibly stay in the Melia hotel during his visit, one of the sources said.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency also reported that Mr Kim Chang Son visited the Metropole hotel again on Wednesday.
Mr Kim Chang Son is director of the State Affairs Commission and chief of Pyongyang's delegation in charge of protocol and logistical issues for the summit.
The Metropole hotel is also where Mr Trump stayed during his visit to the South-east Asian country in 2017. It is close to Vietnam's state guesthouse, where the North's delegation has been staying since their arrival in the city last Saturday, Yonhap said.
Asked whether Mr Kim would meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on his way through the country, or for any other details of the trip, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he was unaware of the situation.
“China and North Korea have a tradition of high-level mutual visits. As for the situation you mentioned, I have no grasp of it,” Mr Geng told a daily news briefing. He did not elaborate.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
Travel by train has been a favourite mode of transport for Mr Kim Jong Un, his father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather, Kim Il Sung.
North Korea experts have remarked on how Mr Kim Jong Un’s overseas visits, such as his state visit to China in January, are reminiscent of Kim Il Sung's.
“(His father) Kim Jong Il was very reclusive. He didn’t like meeting foreign delegations, and he didn’t really enjoy going to foreign countries,” said Mr Thae Yong Ho, North Korea’s former deputy ambassador to Britain, who defected to South Korea in 2016, told media on Tuesday.
“But Kim Jong Un is a bit like Kim Il Sung. He really likes overseas activity,” said Mr Thae.
Mr Kim Il Sung visited Vietnam twice, in 1958 and 1964.
In 1958, Mr Kim Il Sung went from Pyongyang to Beijing by plane, then from Beijing to Guangzhou by train, then he appears to have crossed the border from China to Hanoi by plane, South Korean newspaper Kyunghyang Shinmun reported on Tuesday citing archived Chinese media reports.
In 1964, Mr Kim Il Sung visited Vietnam using a Vickers Viscount aircraft provided by China that was the personal plane of Mao Zedong’s second-in-command Lin Biao, Kyunghyang reported.