An old-style green train that is said to resemble one that has transported North Korea's leaders on foreign trips has arrived in China, prompting speculation that Kim Jong Un was in Beijing for talks.
Kim Jong Un is not believed to have previously traveled overseas since he became the de facto leader following the death of his father Kim Jong Il in December 2011.
There were no reports of any visit in Chinese media and government spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she did not know of any visits by senior North Korean officials.
"At a possibly historic moment, before the start of a dramatic play on the Korean Peninsula, China was losing the spotlight", said Cheng Xiaohe, a North Korea expert at Beijing's Renmin University. The North Korean leader is due to hold separate summits with South Korea in late April and the United States in May.
"We are carefully watching the situation concerning things that are now happening in Beijing, with all possibilities in mind", a Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters, declining to be named.
Kim Yo Jong is Kim's sister and the head of the Korean Workers' Party's Propaganda and Agitation department.
The last time such preparations occurred was said to be when late leader Kim Jong-il visited China in 2011.
"There has rarely been talks between Kim Jong Un regime and Xi administration (leadership in Beijing) and as it is at a state where mutual distrust is very strong, there are concerns about the outcome where Kim Jong Un regime will make a deal with the USA for the survival of its national regime, and might revolt against China", said Seo Jeong-kyung, professor at the Sungkyun Institute of China studies in Seoul. Since taking office in late 2011 young North Korean leader has not left his country, nor has he met yet with any other foreign leader.
"North Korea wants to have some insurance against this upcoming summit meeting with President Trump ... the meeting is very important but also very risky", he said.
According to Konstantin Pulikovsky, a former Russian diplomat who drew on internal classified memos from Kim's visit to Russia in 2001, the train was staffed by "beautiful lady conductors" and live lobsters were shipped to stops along the route, along with cases of Bordeaux and Burgundy red wines.
Other reports said a train belonging to the Kim family had stopped in the Chinese capital.
Though allies, the China-North Korean relations went through some testing times since Kim took over as the supreme leader of the country as he pressed ahead with his nuclear programme disregarding caution from Beijing.
On the contrary, the official said, a summit with Xi would underscore Kim's standing as a world leader.
Footage broadcast on Japanese television showed the North Korean train with green carriages with yellow stripes arriving in the Chinese capital amid tight security.
"If North Korea speaks with the United States on its own, it might feel it is at a disadvantage but, if it has China as an ally, Pyongyang may think it will be able to protect its interests and profits during the summits".
On Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, the word "fatty" has become unsearchable, when used in the context of the North Korean visit, South Korean news service News 1 reported.
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