As the June 12 meeting in Singapore between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un draws nearer — Kim now settling in to his suite at the St Regis Hotel — discussion of the subject on Chinese social media is a matter of some sensitivity. China has a lot at stake in the outcome of negotiations over the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and Party leaders are no doubt eager to avoid unwanted chatter. And one area of apparent sensitivity for the authorities in recent days has been the simple question of how exactly Kim is getting to Singapore.
According to a report in The Straits Times, Singapore’s English-language broadsheet, Kim arrived in Singapore today on a jet belonging to the fleet of Air China, the People’s Republic of China’s flag carrier.
Over the past few days, posts on Weibo speculating that Kim would be flying to Singapore in an Air China 747 were deleted by censors. Previous media reports had indicated that Kim would be traveling on a Soviet-era Russian plan, but curiosity was aroused when a 747 originally thought to be scheduled for a return to Beijing from Pyongyang was reportedly rerouted to Singapore. A Weibo post at 6:56PM Beijing time on June 8 by well-known nationalist scholar Wang Xiaodong (王小东), the author of the 2009 book Unhappy China, was deleted in just under 40 minutes. “According to Japanese television reports,” Wang wrote, “[Kim] will be taken to Singapore on a China-branded airplane.”
Noting the speculation yesterday about the use of an Air China plane, and perhaps putting his finger on one point of sensitivity for China, Richard McGregor of the Lowy Institute, suggested on Twitter that China might be the “best-informed third party” at the Singapore summit:
Gosh, maybe Kim Jong-un will be flown to Singapore in an Air China plane. If true, there’s no doubt who’ll be the best-informed third party at this summit. https://t.co/VSgyx6JBn8
— Richard McGregor (@mcgregorrichard) June 9, 2018
A post at 2:07PM Beijing time today by Weibo user Xu Zhenyi (许振义), former director for Asia at the National University of Singapore (NUS), sharing a Twitter post from police in Singapore, read simply: “Singapore police will be shutting down traffic between the Changyi Airport and Tanglin Road within the next hour. It’s really possible [he’s taken] a [Chinese] national airline. Kim is coming.”
The post had been censored by 3:13PM.
Tanglin Road, referenced in Xu’s post, is the location of the St Regis Hotel, where Kim will reportedly be staying ahead of the summit.
But Kim’s flight seemed to remain a topic of some confusion. An afternoon report from South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency focussed attention on Kim’s official Soviet-era aircraft, Chammae-1, saying that it had passed through Beijing airspace and was heading southwest on a 7-8 hour journey to Singapore. And a post at 1:58 Beijing time by Chinese scholar Wu Ming (吴铭), sharing the gist of the Yonhap report, was deleted 36 minutes later.
2018-06-10 13:57:57 | 金正恩的专机“苍鹰一号”于平壤时间10日上午9时30分许从平壤起飞，飞往新加坡。根据飞机航班信息查询网站Flightradar24的消息，“苍鹰一号”穿越北京上空正在开往西南方向，没有航空器呼号或航班号。由于“苍鹰一号”的航班号未被公开，其航迹在穿过河北上空之后才被捕捉到。http://t.cn/RByzISa
Kim may already have touched down in Singapore. But speculation as to how exactly he got there still seems to be flying.