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Train’s arrival in Beijing raises speculation of Kim visit

BEIJING (AP) – Speculation about a visit to Beijing by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un or another high-level Pyongyang official was running high Tuesday amid talk of preparations for a meeting between the North’s reclusive leader and President Donald Trump.

The arrival of a special train in Beijing and unusually heavy security at a guesthouse where prominent North Koreans have stayed in the past have fueled talk that Kim was making his first visit to China as the North’s leader.

Such a trip would be seen as a potential precursor to Kim’s planned summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in late April and his anticipated meeting with Trump by May. Analysts, however, questioned whether Kim would make the visit to Beijing himself rather than send an envoy.

Police and security officials stand guard as a motorcade travels along a road near the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Tuesday, March 27, 2018. The arrival of a special train in Beijing and unusually heavy security at a guesthouse where prominent North Koreans have stayed in the past have raised speculation that North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un is making his first visit to China as the North’s leader. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

While there has been no word of a meeting with Chinese leaders, China has been one of North Korea’s most important allies even though relations have chilled recently because of Kim’s development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

On Monday, heavy security was reported at the Friendship Bridge on the Yalu River marking the border between China and North Korea before a train passed. There were reports of it transiting several stations on the way from North Korea to Beijing.

Japanese broadcaster NTV reported that the green and yellow train appeared very similar to the one that Kim’s father and predecessor as North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Il, took to Beijing in 2011.

A video that aired on NTV also showed a motorcade of black limousines waiting at the train station and rows of Chinese soldiers marching on what appeared to be a train platform. The video did not show anyone getting off the train.

Fueling the speculation, a vehicle convoy entered the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on Monday evening and a military honor guard and heavy security were seen later. The guesthouse had been the favored residence of Kim Jong Il during his visits to Beijing.

Shortly before 11 a.m. Tuesday, a convoy of official Chinese cars was seen leaving the guesthouse’s east gate.

City police and the paramilitary People’s Armed Police stood guard in the area and unidentified men in plainclothes attempted to prevent photographers from taking pictures.

Cars in the convoy were identified by yellow stickers but carried no diplomatic license plates.

A staffer with the Chinese foreign ministry’s press office responded to a question about Kim’s possible presence in Beijing by saying, “So far, I am not aware of the situation you mentioned.”

Past visits by Kim Jong Il to China were surrounded in secrecy, with Beijing only confirming his presence after he had crossed the border by train back into North Korea.

North Korea’s state-run media had no reports of a delegation traveling to China.

South Korea’s presidential office said it could not confirm reports that the train carried Kim nor a separate report that Kim’s sister was onboard.

South Korean analysts were doubtful the visitor is Kim. Since succeeding his father as leader in 2011, Kim has touted an image of his country as diplomatic equal to China and it’s unlikely he would sneak into Beijing for his first face-to-face meetings with the Chinese leadership, the analysts said.

They said it’s more likely that Kim sent a special envoy, possibly his younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, to appease a traditional ally ahead of his planned meetings with the presidents of South Korea and the United States. The envoy could potentially seek Chinese commitment for future support should North Korea’s talks with rivals fall through, said Du Hyeogn Cha, a visiting scholar at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

“North Korea doesn’t want to send a message that China has been pushed to the back as it makes diplomatic approaches to the United States and South Korea,” said Cha, adding that the visit could be part of the North’s effort to gain leverage in the talks with South Korea and the United States.

“If the talks with South Korea and the United States fall through, North Korea will surely try to demonstrate its nuclear weapons and missile capabilities again. The special envoy could discuss this possibility with Chinese officials, asking China not to press too hard with sanctions if that happens,” Cha said.

White House spokesman Raj Shah said Monday that the U.S. could not confirm reports that Kim was visiting China.

Shah reiterated Trump’s plans to meet with Kim, saying the U.S.-led international pressure campaign against Pyongyang “has paid dividends and has brought the North Koreans to the table.”

___

Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

Police in tactical gear block a road leading to the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Tuesday, March 27, 2018. Unusually heavy security at a Beijing guesthouse where prominent North Koreans have stayed in the past and media reports of a special train arriving have raised speculation that Kim Jong Un is making his first trip to China as North Korea's leader. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Police in tactical gear block a road leading to the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Tuesday, March 27, 2018. Unusually heavy security at a Beijing guesthouse where prominent North Koreans have stayed in the past and media reports of a special train arriving have raised speculation that Kim Jong Un is making his first trip to China as North Korea’s leader. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

A man removes his sweater near a display board with photos showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his late father Kim Jong Il outside the North Korean embassy in Beijing, China, Tuesday, March 27, 2018. Unusually heavy security at a Beijing guesthouse where prominent North Koreans have stayed in the past and media reports of a special train arriving have raised speculation that Kim Jong Un is making his first trip to China as North Korea's leader. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

A man removes his sweater near a display board with photos showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his late father Kim Jong Il outside the North Korean embassy in Beijing, China, Tuesday, March 27, 2018. Unusually heavy security at a Beijing guesthouse where prominent North Koreans have stayed in the past and media reports of a special train arriving have raised speculation that Kim Jong Un is making his first trip to China as North Korea’s leader. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

A man removes his sweater near a display board with a photo showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un outside the North Korean embassy in Beijing, China, Tuesday, March 27, 2018. Unusually heavy security at a Beijing guesthouse where prominent North Koreans have stayed in the past and media reports of a special train arriving have raised speculation that Kim Jong Un is making his first trip to China as North Korea's leader. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

A man removes his sweater near a display board with a photo showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un outside the North Korean embassy in Beijing, China, Tuesday, March 27, 2018. Unusually heavy security at a Beijing guesthouse where prominent North Koreans have stayed in the past and media reports of a special train arriving have raised speculation that Kim Jong Un is making his first trip to China as North Korea’s leader. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Police in tactical gear block a road leading to the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Tuesday, March 27, 2018. The arrival of a special train in Beijing and unusually heavy security at a guesthouse where prominent North Koreans have stayed in the past have raised speculation that Kim Jong Un is making his first visit to China as the North's leader. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Police in tactical gear block a road leading to the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Tuesday, March 27, 2018. The arrival of a special train in Beijing and unusually heavy security at a guesthouse where prominent North Koreans have stayed in the past have raised speculation that Kim Jong Un is making his first visit to China as the North’s leader. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Plainclothes security officials block a road in front of the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Tuesday, March 27, 2018. Unusually heavy security at a Beijing guesthouse where prominent North Koreans have stayed in the past and media reports of a special train arriving have raised speculation that Kim Jong Un is making his first trip to China as the North's leader. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Plainclothes security officials block a road in front of the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Tuesday, March 27, 2018. Unusually heavy security at a Beijing guesthouse where prominent North Koreans have stayed in the past and media reports of a special train arriving have raised speculation that Kim Jong Un is making his first trip to China as the North’s leader. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Chinese policemen stand guard at a road barricade in front of the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Tuesday, March 27, 2018. Unusually heavy security at a Beijing guesthouse where prominent North Koreans have stayed in the past and media reports of a special train arriving have raised speculation that Kim Jong Un is making his first trip to China as the North's leader. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Chinese policemen stand guard at a road barricade in front of the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Tuesday, March 27, 2018. Unusually heavy security at a Beijing guesthouse where prominent North Koreans have stayed in the past and media reports of a special train arriving have raised speculation that Kim Jong Un is making his first trip to China as the North’s leader. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Heavy security presence is seen at the entrance to the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse where top North Korean leaders have stayed on previous trips to Beijing, China, Monday, March 26, 2018. Japanese media reports said a special North Korean train arrived in Beijing under unusually heavy security on Monday, suggesting a senior delegation might have been aboard. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Heavy security presence is seen at the entrance to the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse where top North Korean leaders have stayed on previous trips to Beijing, China, Monday, March 26, 2018. Japanese media reports said a special North Korean train arrived in Beijing under unusually heavy security on Monday, suggesting a senior delegation might have been aboard. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Chinese policemen block a road leading to the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Tuesday, March 27, 2018. Unusually heavy security at a Beijing guesthouse where prominent North Koreans have stayed in the past and media reports of a special train arriving have raised speculation that Kim Jong Un is making his first trip to China as the North's leader. A sign in the center reads: "Traffic control." (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Chinese policemen block a road leading to the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Tuesday, March 27, 2018. Unusually heavy security at a Beijing guesthouse where prominent North Koreans have stayed in the past and media reports of a special train arriving have raised speculation that Kim Jong Un is making his first trip to China as the North’s leader. A sign in the center reads: “Traffic control.” (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

A military honor guard is seen marching away after a convoy of vehicles enter the the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse where top North Korean leaders have been known to stay on previous trips to Beijing, China, Monday, March 26, 2018. Japanese media reports said a special North Korean train arrived in Beijing under unusually heavy security on Monday, suggesting a senior delegation might have been aboard. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

A military honor guard is seen marching away after a convoy of vehicles enter the the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse where top North Korean leaders have been known to stay on previous trips to Beijing, China, Monday, March 26, 2018. Japanese media reports said a special North Korean train arrived in Beijing under unusually heavy security on Monday, suggesting a senior delegation might have been aboard. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Police officers guard an intersection near the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse where top North Korean leaders have stayed on previous trips to Beijing, China, Monday, March 26, 2018. Japanese media reports said a special North Korean train arrived in Beijing under unusually heavy security on Monday, suggesting a senior delegation might have been aboard. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Police officers guard an intersection near the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse where top North Korean leaders have stayed on previous trips to Beijing, China, Monday, March 26, 2018. Japanese media reports said a special North Korean train arrived in Beijing under unusually heavy security on Monday, suggesting a senior delegation might have been aboard. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

A paramilitary policeman guards the entrance to the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse where top North Korean leaders have stayed on previous trips to Beijing, China, Monday, March 26, 2018. Japanese media reports said a special North Korean train arrived in Beijing under unusually heavy security on Monday, suggesting a senior delegation might have been aboard. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

A paramilitary policeman guards the entrance to the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse where top North Korean leaders have stayed on previous trips to Beijing, China, Monday, March 26, 2018. Japanese media reports said a special North Korean train arrived in Beijing under unusually heavy security on Monday, suggesting a senior delegation might have been aboard. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

A convoy under heavy security is seen passing into the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse where top North Korean leaders have stayed on previous trips to Beijing, China, Monday, March 26, 2018. Japanese media reports said a special North Korean train arrived in Beijing under unusually heavy security on Monday, suggesting a senior delegation might have been aboard. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

A convoy under heavy security is seen passing into the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse where top North Korean leaders have stayed on previous trips to Beijing, China, Monday, March 26, 2018. Japanese media reports said a special North Korean train arrived in Beijing under unusually heavy security on Monday, suggesting a senior delegation might have been aboard. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

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