- Kim Jong-Un was rumoured to visit China to discuss the nuclear issue
- A mysterious train under heavy security was spotted in Beijing Station
- It has led to speculation that the train is for the North Korean leader
The Chinese capital is gripped by mystery that includes an armored train, amateur detectives and flurry of Internet searches for "fatty the third."
On Monday afternoon, an unusual train chugged into Beijing Station under tight security. Passengers disembarked and boarded limos. After nightfall, a motorcade drove to a state guesthouse where foreign dignitaries often stay.
But after more than 24 hours of speculation about a possible visit by a senior North Korean leader, perhaps even Kim Jong Un, it is not yet clear who was actually on the train, or why. Was it Kim? His sister? Somebody else?
The White House can't confirm. The South Koreans are quiet. And a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said at a daily press briefing on Tuesday that she has "no information" about the green and yellow train or the very, very long motorcade.
Chinese netizens looking for answers hit a wall: On Tuesday, three of the top 10 blocked terms on Weibo, a microblogging site, were "Kim Jong Un," "North Korea" and "Fatty the third," a popular Chinese nickname for Kim, according to freeweibo.com, a website that tracks censorship.
The fact that nobody is talking is particularly striking given the timing; the train arrived in the run-up to Kim's summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in late April and his possible meeting with President Donald Trump in May.
Chinese experts declined to comment on who was in town but said a senior North Korean leader visiting China before meeting with Moon and Trump would, hypothetically, make sense.
"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. A visit would restore Beijing's a leading role, he reasoned.
"The North Korea nuclear issue cannot be solved by solely relying on negotiations between North Korea and the United States, because, essentially, the nuclear issue is a regional security issue, not an issue of the relationship between North Korea and the United States," said Zhang Liangui, a retired professor and Korea scholar at the Central Party School in Beijing.
Experts also said secrecy was standard for North Korean visitors. "Kim Jong Un's father, Kim Jong Il, employed a similar approach in the past: it's usually a secret visit and then publicized after the North Korean leader has left," said Lu Chao, a Korean Peninsula expert at China's Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences.
It was the example of Kim Jong Il's 2011 visit that provided early clues that something may be up.
The detective work started Monday when trainspotters and North Korea-watchers noticed two suspicious developments: tight security at the China-North Korea border and train delays across the northeast.
On Monday afternoon, Japanese broadcaster NTV spotted an unusual train pulling into a station in the heart of the capital. It was green and yellow and looked a whole lot like the trains used by Kim Jong Il, in 2011.
As the news started to spread, so too did unverified videos of a motorcade speeding through the Chinese capital. Soon totally unconfirmed reports of Kim sightings were speeding through chat groups too.
The rest of the region was equally captivated - despite the lack of details.
"We noted this movement in the North few days ago, and have been paying close attention to it," a senior official from the presidential Blue House told local reporters. But the identity of the visitor had not been verified, he said.
Even if he knew, the official said, he wouldn't tell the press.
Papers from South Korea's left-wing Hankyoreh to Japan's right-wing Sankei reported unequivocally that the mystery VIP was Kim Jong Un. If true, it would be the leader's first trip abroad.
Kim had met multiple Chinese Communist Party leaders, the Sankei quoted an unnamed party official as saying. China and North Korea had been discussing the timing of Kim's visit since the start of this year, with China insisting that North Korea must show its "willingness to work toward giving up its nuclear program," according to the official.
Beijingers hoping to catch a glimpse of Kim - or not Kim - may be disappointed: by Tuesday afternoon a motorcade was reportedly on its way back to Beijing Station.
And those waiting for juicy details on what was discussed may have to wait. In the past, visits have been announced only once the mystery train chugged back across the border.
The Washington Post's Amber Ziye Wang, Shirely Feng, Luna Lin and Yang Liu in Beijing, Min Joo Kim from Seoul and Yuki Oda in Tokyo contributed to this report.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)