Secret China visit: All aboard Kim Jong-il's luxury train
We're not supposed to know that Kim Jong-il owns six luxury trains, or that he rode one to Beijing this week and visited the Great Wall of China today. It's a secret.
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The last time Kim traveled by train to China, in 2006, an explosion occurred on the North Korean tracks shortly before his train passed. (It was blamed on a dangling wire.) Now, for security purposes, or perhaps to act as decoys, another train precedes him and a yet a third train follows him when he travels. Still another 100 security personnel are sent ahead to secure his destination.Skip to next paragraph
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Asking China for support
Kim's tedious, luxurious mode of travel comes at the expense of his country’s 20 million citizens, many of whom live in poverty and some of whom are believed starving. The government's botched currency reform last year lopped two zeros off the currency while also causing food shortages, which itself could be one reason for his visit to China now.
“He needs China’s help,” says Mr. Snyder of the Council on Foreign Relations. China may be willing to give North Korea food rations in exchange for Kim’s return to six-party nuclear talks, says Snyder.
Compared to Kim's 2006 visit to China, this trip is unique because of the media’s unprecedented documentation, says Snyder. Japanese and Korean media have offered blow-by-blow accounts of Kim’s movements thanks to satellite imagery and access to the cities where Kim is visiting. “At this stage, it’s the most anticipated non-visit to occur, well, since the last time he went,” says Snyder.
Afraid of flying or a traditionalist?
An estimated as many as 40 percent of the world's population is afraid of flying the friendly (or volcanic ash-ridden) skies.
But because of the aforementioned secrecy surrounding Kim’s movements, Snyder says he isn’t convinced that Kim really does suffer pteromerhanophia. An alternative reason for his preference for trains could be his deference to tradition; his father always traveled by train, too, says Snyder.
Jury is out on how Kim’s son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-un, prefers to travel. But his schooling in Bern, Switzerland (where he learned English, German, and French), would imply that he doesn't mind boarding a plane now and then.
“I don’t know how he got there or got back,” says Snyder.
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