PYONGYANG/BEIJING – Upper House lawmaker Antonio Inoki on Monday arrived in North Korea to promote sports exchanges and learn about the future course of the country following the purge last month of leader Kim Jong Un’s once-powerful uncle.
“I am hoping to have a discussion that will be a plus” for both Japan and North Korea, the former professional wrestling star told reporters at Beijing airport before leaving for Pyongyang.
Inoki plans to meet with Kim Yong Il, director of the International Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea, and other senior officials to discuss arrangements for sports exchanges and a visit by a delegation from the Diet.
Inoki has said he will organize a major sports and peace event in Pyongyang this summer.
The 70-year-old House of Councilors member from the opposition party Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) has close ties with North Korea. This is his 28th visit to the country.
He last visited North Korea in November, when he met with the uncle, Jang Song Thaek, before he was purged and executed in December for treason.
“Seeing is worth a thousand words,” Inoki, whose real first name is Kanji, replied when asked at the airport what he thinks of visiting the North so soon after Jang’s execution.
“Amid various media reports, I’d like to also check in which direction this country will move,” Inoki said.
Jang, who had been considered the North’s second-most-powerful figure, held numerous senior posts, including vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission and chairman of the State Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission.
Inoki made his November visit while the Diet was in session and without getting advance permission. The chamber later passed a resolution prohibiting him from attending the Diet for 30 days.
During the previous, Inoki opened a local office for his nonprofit organization Sports Peace Community Association.
No Diet permission was required for Monday’s trip because the Diet is closed, but the government, which has no diplomatic relations with North Korea, usually asks citizens to refrain from visiting its communist neighbor.
Japan has imposed sanctions on North Korea, both unilaterally and in line with the international community. The sanctions were imposed to punish the country for not making progress in addressing its past abductions of Japanese and its nuclear and missile development programs.