SEOUL/DALIAN, China -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un broke with tradition by flying to this week's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, fueling speculation that Kim's talks with U.S. President Donald Trump will be held far from the Korean Peninsula.
Past North Korean leaders -- notably Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, who was reportedly afraid of flying -- preferred to travel by rail. The younger Kim's first meeting with Xi, held in Beijing this March, was no exception.
But for their second face-to-face talks on Monday and Tuesday, Kim flew from the North Korean capital to the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian.
After 3 p.m. on Tuesday, a gray jet was seen pulling out of the VIP terminal at Dalian's airport and taking off into a hazy sky -- likely with Kim and other senior North Korean officials aboard.
The flight could have been practice for the Kim-Trump summit expected in the coming weeks.
Many observers now believe that the two men will meet in a third country, likely Singapore, rather than the Korean War truce village of Panmunjom as once expected. A journey by train to such a venue would cross multiple borders, raising formidable logistical and security challenges.
This may have been a factor for Kim, whom South Korean President Moon Jae-in described as a "practical" man after their historic summit last month.
Handling Kim's Dalian visit was challenge enough. Unannounced, intermittent road closures snarled traffic throughout the city. Many inbound and outbound flights were canceled or delayed on both days to accommodate the trip, creating confusion at the airport.
Thanks in part to these precautions, the visitor's identity was kept under wraps until the end of his stay. "Secrecy has gotten very strict since Xi Jinping became president," a police officer said.