Not since the Hogwarts Express has a train been shrouded in such mystery. Military green with a yellow strand across the middle of its bogeys, the appearance of the locomotive famous for being the preferred mode of transport of the aerophobic Kim Jong-Il, and now his son and successor as North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, was spotted making a night-time exit from Beijing. For much of Tuesday and Wednesday, rumours that Kim junior met with Chinese President Xi Jinping began to circulate. Those rumours have been confirmed, and sparked a cautious hope that the seemingly volatile dictator is willing to open up and negotiate with his rivals, both in the neighbourhood and in the West.
Xinhua, China’s official news agency, has confirmed that the North Korean leader was in the country between Sunday and Wednesday and that he has assured Xi he is committed to “Korean denuclearisation”. Kim Jong-un’s first foreign visit since he took over from his father in 2011 has come on the heels of a series of steps that have hinted at a détente with South Korea and the US. Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, led the North Korean delegation to the Winter Olympics in Seoul in February. The soft diplomacy was followed by the announcement that Kim would meet with Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president in April, after which, in all likelihood, there will be a summit meeting with US President Donald Trump.
After a year which was marked by missile tests (by North Korea), and promises of “fire and fury”, the thaw is welcome. As North Korea’s closest ally, China seems to be playing the role of facilitator with the US and South Korea. Hopefully, the efforts towards bringing North Korea out of its economic isolation and curbing its nuclear programme will yield tangible results. A lot has gone into bringing the elusive train out of its usual route. Stray tweets must not be allowed to derail the gains made so far.