BEIJING – Pro wrestler-turned-lawmaker Antonio Inoki left China bound for North Korea on Saturday without the required authorization of the Diet, saying he wants to keep dialogue with Pyongyang open to resolve bilateral problems.
“I’d like to continue and hope that I will be able to discuss a range of issues face-to-face at an early date,” Inoki told reporters at Beijing international airport before boarding a flight to Pyongyang.
Inoki, 70, an Upper House member of opposition group Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), will attend sports events in the North Korean capital and is also planning to meet with Kim Yong Il, director of the International Department of the Korean Workers’ Party, and other senior party members.
The Upper House Steering Committee did not authorize Inoki, whose real name is Kanji Inoki, to make the planned six-day trip to the North, saying the purpose of his trip is unclear and that he may now be disciplined.
Lawmakers need to get Diet approval before traveling overseas when the legislature is in session.
“I will just do what I have to do . . . and have strong resolve,” Inoki said, noting that improving relations between Japan and North Korea was one of his campaign pledges during this summer’s House of Councilors election.
Inoki has close ties with North Korea, and this is his 27th visit to the country.
He last visited the North in late July, before formally becoming a Diet lawmaker, to attend an official event in Pyongyang commemorating the 60th anniversary of the armistice of the 1950-1953 Korean War.
During that trip, he made a courtesy call on North Korea’s de facto head of state, Kim Yong Nam, and met with Jang Song Thaek, uncle of and a top aide to the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un.
In August, Inoki told a news conference that he wants to create an environment for a summit meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Kim Jong Un.
Japan has no diplomatic relations with North Korea and imposes sanctions on the isolated country, both unilaterally and in line with the international community. The sanctions were prompted by a lack of progress on Pyongyang’s part in addressing its past abductions of Japanese nationals and its escalating nuclearization.
As part of the punitive measures, Tokyo advises Japanese nationals not to travel to North Korea.