World News

How Did Kim Jong Un Get to Singapore? With Some Help From China.

Posted June 11, 2018 12:14 p.m. EDT

BEIJING — When Kim Jong Un arrived in Singapore on Sunday for his landmark summit meeting with President Donald Trump, he stepped off a jumbo jet emblazoned with the logo of Air China and the Chinese national flag.

China said it provided the aircraft — actually an American-made Boeing 747 that was formerly used by Chinese leaders — to Kim to make the 3,000-mile trip to Singapore.

Photographs of Kim stepping off the Chinese jumbo jet drew immediate quips about North Korea’s reliance on its much larger and wealthier neighbor.

“China’s new province,” said a tweet by Victor Cha, a North Korea expert at Georgetown University who was once under consideration to be the U.S. ambassador to South Korea.

The Air China jet was one of three in a mini-armada that flew the North Korean entourage to Singapore. The other two were Russian-built aircraft operated by North Korea’s national carrier, Air Koryo. One carried Kim’s sister and close adviser, Kim Yo Jong. The other was a cargo plane bearing Kim’s armored stretch limousine.

Chinese aviation experts said Kim probably chose the Air China aircraft because of its greater reliability. Called the 747-4J6, it is a specially outfitted version of the venerable American jet that until three years ago had been used to carry members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the elite inner circle of Communist Party leaders.

Kim’s own official aircraft is a 38-year-old Soviet-made Ilyushin Il-62, Chinese aviation experts said.

“The Russian aircraft cannot compare with the Chinese Boeing 747-4J6 for safety and comfort level,” said Gao Zhuo, a columnist for Aerospace Knowledge, a monthly Chinese magazine about flight.

Since the Ilyushin Il-62 is no longer in production and spare parts are scarce, Kim may have decided against using it to avoid being grounded by a minor mechanical malfunction.

“Any incidents on the trip,” Gao said, and “a proud person like Kim would be very embarrassed.”

The Chinese government almost certainly lent Kim the Air China aircraft without charge as a friendly diplomatic gesture, Chinese foreign policy experts said.

“It would be free,” said Cheng Xiaohe, a North Korea expert at Renmin University.

When asked at a media briefing, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said only that North Korea had asked China to provide the plane.

During the flight to Singapore, which could be tracked online, Kim’s aircraft followed an unusual route through Chinese airspace that appeared to take it over Chinese air force bases. This indicated that his plane was most likely escorted by Chinese fighter jets, Gao said.

While the aircraft was built by Boeing, its interior was outfitted by the Chinese government, which has equipped all of its leadership’s jets since a Boeing 767 delivered in 2001 to Jiang Zemin, then president, was reportedly found to be filled with listening devices.

As for cabin comfort, Gao said Chinese leaders do not indulge in overly fancy interiors. Photographs of aircraft used by President Xi Jinping, for instance, usually show desks and seats that are not luxurious, though they do appear more comfortable than those in commercial airliners, Gao said.