Unconfirmed reports circulated on Monday that the travel-averse North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may be visiting China.
Speculation swirled after video footage surfaced that appeared to show the arrival in Beijing of a green train carriage of the sort Kim’s late father and predecessor, Kim Jong Il, rode when he visited the capital in 2011.
The South Korean news agency Yonhap, citing a Japanese report, said Monday that a “high-ranking North Korean official” was visiting China ahead of summits with South Korean and American leaders.
Citing three unnamed sources, Bloomberg later reported that Kim himself was making the visit. It would be his first overseas trip since taking power in 2011.
Asked about the rumors during a news briefing on Monday, White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah said he couldn’t confirm the reports.
“I don’t know if they’re necessarily true,” Shah told reporters.
The office of Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president, said in a statement about the reports: “We are closely monitoring any related movements, using various channels to try to confirm them.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she was unaware of the situation, Reuters reports.
China and North Korea are historical allies but have experienced strained relations in recent years. Beijing has backed sanctions against its neighbor that have reduced the country’s exports of coal and other key sources of foreign currency. Chinese leaders have also harshly criticized Kim’s aggressive pursuit of a nuclear arsenal capable of striking the U.S.
Kim has not met with any major world leaders since assuming leadership of North Korea in 2011. However, he met with South Korean envoys on March 5 and agreed to meet with Moon in the border town of Panmunjom in late April.
In a subsequent visit to the White House, South Korean envoys reported that Kim had offered to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump to discuss denuclearization. Trump agreed, saying he would meet with Kim by May.