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Kim's epic train journey to Trump summit is a nod to his grandfather

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Image: Kim Jong Un waves from his train before leaving Pyongyang on his way
Kim Jong Un waves from his train before leaving Pyongyang on his way to Vietnam. -
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KCNA via KNS
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HANOI, Vietnam — For his second summit with President Donald Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un opted to go retro — riding the rails like his grandfather decades before.Kim's decision to take the train all the way across China was probably prompted at least in part by security considerations— his train is built like a tank and almost as slow. But it also marks a major attempt at showmanship designed to bring back memories of North Korean "eternal president" Kim Il Sung's many travels by railroad.Kim Jong Un's journey aboard his forest green train from Pyongyang to the Vietnamese border town of Dong Dang took more than two and a half days. That's longer than it took Trump to fly halfway around the world, even with Air Force One stopping for fuel along the way."Kim Jong Un is already putting on a big show, opting for more than a 60-hour train journey, when he can get to Hanoi in just four hours by flight," Nam Sung-wook, a former South Korean intelligence official, told Reuters.

Politics

But the overland passage was a marked upgrade in optics from Kim's first summit with Trump, in Singapore last June.For that trip, Kim traveled aboard an Air China Boeing 747, meaning the first images from that history-making arrival showed him disembarking from an American-made plane emblazoned with a Chinese flag.This time around, when Kim stepped down early Tuesday from his distinctive yellow-trimmed train, he was greeted with a bouquet of flowers on a patterned red carpet lined with a Vietnamese honor guard and the five-pointed communist-starred flags of North Korea and Vietnam. He then switched to a black limousine for the final drive to Hanoi.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrives in Vietnam on Tuesday.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrives in Vietnam on Tuesday.Nhac Nguyen

That's a much more on-message scene for the North Koreans, who want their home audience to see Kim as the man in charge.But it's also familiar on another level.North Koreans grow up seeing images of Kim's grandfather traveling by train, which he took to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, among other places. Kim Il Sung visited Vietnam in 1958 and 1964, though he used a mix of airplanes and trains on those journeys.A mock-up of a car from the train is on permanent display at the mausoleum where Kim Il Sung and his son, late leader Kim Jong Il, lie in state, along with maps that light up to show the routes he took on his travels.World news

Inside the car is a desk used by the leaders, along with chairs and a sofa. Guides explain that the carriage was used as a mobile office — proof, they insist, the leaders worked tirelessly for the people.Kim Jong Un will mimic aspects of his grandfather's trip to Vietnam by traveling to some of the same locations visited by the elder Kim, two sources with direct knowledge of security and logistics planning told Reuters."This is legacy politics," said Christopher Green, a North Korea expert with the International Crisis Group. "North Korea will want to play up Kim's succession to the role of his grandfather, who successfully built up North Korea's international legitimacy after the establishment of the state."Kim Jong Il, who was Kim Jong Un's father, was known to have hated flying and traveled by train on several trips to China. He is said to have fitted his train out to accommodate lavish parties and karaoke sessions.During his father's rule, trips abroad were often not reported for days after they were over, if at all.But that appears to be changing, also suggesting the importance in the minds of the North's propagandists of getting their own visuals out quickly to the nation.

Kim Jong Un waves from his train before leaving Pyongyang on his way to Vietnam.
Kim Jong Un waves from his train before leaving Pyongyang on his way to Vietnam.KCNA via KNS

It took North Korean state media less than half a day from the time his train — which is made up of carriages decked out with pink leather chairs and big-screen televisions — was spotted crossing the border into China to report that Kim was onboard.Images released by the official Korean Central News Agency showed him inspecting an honor guard in Pyongyang and waving from the train.