Kim Jong-un arrived at his recent meeting with Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, in a new Rolls-Royce Phantom, suggesting that international sanctions are no longer halting the regime’s acquisition of luxury goods.
Video images of Mr Kim arriving for the talks in Pyongyang with Mr Pompeo on Sunday show a jet black Rolls Royce with darkened windows and the distinctive entwined capital Rs on its wheel hubs.
Mr Kim appears to have traded in the Mercedes-Benz that he has previously used for important occasions, with automotive website the Drive identifying the vehicle as a Phantom. A basic version of the Phantom starts at £318,120, although the website suggested the car would have undergone extensive upgrades to meet the needs of the North Korean dictator, including bulletproofing to enable it to withstand machine gun rounds.
The images have triggered speculation as to how Mr Kim was able to procure a Rolls-Royce, given the ban imposed by the United Nations on imports of high-end goods. Specified on an updated list of banned items, released in December 2016, are, “Luxury automobiles (and motor vehicles); automobiles and other motor vehicles to transport people”.
“The sanctions regime has become a bit of a joke”, said Robert Dujarric, a professor of international relations at the Japan campus of Temple University.
“Someone from their embassy in London could have walked into a Rolls-Royce showroom, paid in cash and had the car in a container heading for the Far East in a matter of days”, he said. “It’s not a weapon, it’s not got any significant technology attached to it and there would not have been too many eyebrows raised.
“Once it gets to Beijing, all they have to do is put diplomatic plates on it and put it in a container to go over the border on a train or truck”, he said. “They could even have driven it over the border because with diplomatic plates, no border guard is going to stop it.
“The Chinese authorities are not going to make a fuss over a car, even if they know it is going to Mr Kim himself”, Mr Dujarric told The Telegraph.
“In any case, it is quite clear that the sanctions are beginning to fade and neither China nor Russia are doing the US any favours on that front for their own reasons”, he said.
And while US media have suggested that Mr Kim’s ostentatious use of a banned luxury vehicle may have been a calculated “slap in the face” to President Donald Trump’s emissary, Mr Dujarric said there is a clear upside.
“This is a car with no military value and I’m sure that Washington would rather Mr Kim is spending his money on cars rather than chemical weapons or nuclear warheads”, he said.