Trump-Kim Singapore summit

Kim makes rare trip overseas for Singapore summit

Onlookers lining Orchard Road to catch a glimpse of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's vehicle convoy as it travelled past Ion Orchard mall on its way to the Istana, where he met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.
Onlookers lining Orchard Road to catch a glimpse of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's vehicle convoy as it travelled past Ion Orchard mall on its way to the Istana, where he met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Mr Kim arriving at Changi Airport yesterday afternoon. Up until two hours before his arrival, it was not certain which flight he would be on.
Mr Kim arriving at Changi Airport yesterday afternoon. Up until two hours before his arrival, it was not certain which flight he would be on. PHOTO: REUTERS
Onlookers lining Orchard Road to catch a glimpse of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's vehicle convoy as it travelled past Ion Orchard mall on its way to the Istana, where he met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.
Mr Kim's security detail at the St Regis hotel, where he and his delegation will be housed during his stay in Singapore. ST PHOTO: SYAMIL SAPARI

N. Korean leader on only 4th trip abroad; flight details kept under wraps

There was an element of suspense surrounding the arrival of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un yesterday in Singapore until two hours before he landed - in contrast to that of United States President Donald Trump in the Republic last night.

At 2.35pm yesterday, an Air China Boeing 747 jet carrying Mr Kim, Chairman of the State Affairs Commission, landed at Changi Airport.

But not all were convinced that he was really on the flight. Even after the plane landed, some media outlets still reported that he would be arriving later.

Another aircraft - a Russian-made IL-62 - which had also left North Korea's capital Pyongyang yesterday morning was due to arrive in Singapore at about 4pm.

For several weeks before Mr Kim's arrival, ahead of his landmark summit tomorrow with Mr Trump on Sentosa, it had been widely reported that he would travel on the IL-62 to Singapore.

The information, however, was never officially confirmed by the North Korean government.

As a result, many of those involved in the planning for his arrival - including Singapore Government officials and staff at Changi Airport - were still working towards a 4pm landing for Mr Kim as late as yesterday morning.

"With no official information (only a select group was presumably in the know), we had to be ready for him to arrive on either the Air China flight or his IL-62 plane," said a source.

It was not until about two hours before the landing that they were told that Mr Kim was indeed on the Air China flight.

In contrast, Mr Trump's arrival timing of around 8.30pm on Air Force One at Paya Lebar Airbase was revealed by the White House at around 8am yesterday.

Observers noted that the secrecy and mystery shrouding Mr Kim's plans could perhaps be explained by security concerns - especially since his international travels have been rare.

Publicly, the North Korean leader has left his country only thrice since taking over the reins after his father died in 2011: He visited China twice and went to the Demilitarised Zone between his country and South Korea this year.

Data from the Flightradar24 website showed that the Air China jet was travelling mostly over China's inland provinces - a break from the typical flying over water. Observers said the unusual flight path could be Beijing's effort at maximising Mr Kim's time in its airspace to provide protection as well as signal its backing for North Korea.

The only certainty in his travel plans to Singapore was that Mr Kim, who was welcomed at Changi Airport by Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, would leave the airport through the VIP complex.

Outside the building - next to Terminal 2 - local and international journalists had started arriving from as early as 9am yesterday, so that they could book the best spots to capture Mr Kim's convoy.

About six hours later, their wait finally paid off.

Led by Traffic Police outriders, a motorcade - with as many as 35 vehicles - left the VIP complex. Mr Kim was believed to be in one of two Mercedes Maybachs that had unmarked plates and North Korean flags.

The convoy travelled along Airport Boulevard Road before hitting the Pan-Island Expressway and stopping at the St Regis hotel in the Orchard area, where Mr Kim and his delegation would be housed during his stay in Singapore.

Even as the motorcade caused traffic disruptions and delays for other vehicles on the road, it also attracted many gawkers, some of whom got out of their vehicles to take pictures and videos.

By the end of the day, three aircraft that departed Pyongyang at different times yesterday morning had landed at Changi Airport.

Apart from the Air China plane that carried Mr Kim and the IL-62 aircraft that he had been expected to be on, there was also a cargo carrier that was the first to land at about 1pm. The IL-76 plane is believed to have carried food items, vehicles, authorised weapons and other supplies.

The North Korean delegation is expected to comprise more than 100 government officials, including Mr Kim's bodyguards. An advance party had arrived on Saturday afternoon on an Air China passenger jet.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2018, with the headline 'Kim makes rare trip overseas for Singapore summit'. Print Edition | Subscribe