PYONGYANG – The head of the most influential pro-North Korea organization in Japan is back in Pyongyang for the first time in eight years and might end up meeting with leader Kim Jong Un.
The visit by Ho Jong Man, accompanied by several executives of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), began Saturday after Tokyo eased travel restrictions between the two countries in July.
Ho, a member of North Korea’s top legislature, was welcomed by Yang Hyong Sop, vice president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, and Kim Yang Gon, director of the United Front Department of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, at Pyongyang’s airport.
Ho will attend events for the 66th anniversary of the founding of North Korea on Tuesday, and is likely to discuss major outstanding bilateral issues with senior officials, including how to prevent the group from losing its headquarters’ property in Japan.
Upon arriving in Beijing Friday, Ho told reporters he will take part in a session of North Korea’s parliament Sept. 25.
Ho is “expected to receive various instructions” from Kim, who inherited power after his father died in December 2011, said an executive of the association ahead of his departure from Tokyo to Beijing.
Following the easing of the restrictions, immigration authorities gave Ho approval to re-enter Japan after the visit.
The association has functioned as the North’s de facto embassy for many decades due to the absence of diplomatic ties between Tokyo and Pyongyang.
In early July, Japan lifted some unilateral sanctions against North Korea in return for its launch of a new investigation into at least a dozen Japanese abducted to North Korea during the 1970s and 1980s.
The sanctions, imposed in 2006 following a North Korean missile launch and its first nuclear test, included a ban on Chongryon executives who are deputies of the legislature coming back to Japan.
The last time Ho visited Pyongyang was April 2006 to attend a session of the Supreme People’s Assembly.
For Japan, the issue of citizens whom North Korean agents abducted remains a central sticking point to establishing diplomatic relations with the country.
Meanwhile on Saturday, a group related to the late Shin Kanemaru arrived in Pyongyang ahead of the 100th anniversary of the influential politician’s birth on Sept. 17.
“Our trip is mainly sightseeing, and we have no political intention,” his son, Yasunobu Kanemaru, said at a hotel in the North Korean capital.
The delegation of nearly 60 people arrived as Japan and North Korea are working to improve ties by addressing the long-festering abduction issue. The party is being led by the eldest son of Kanemaru, a former vice president of the Liberal Democratic Party who worked on establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries in the 1990s.
But his son, who is visiting North Korea for the first time, said he hopes his father’s efforts to improve relations will bear fruit in the near future and that the group’s trip will contribute to that end.
In September 1990, Kanemaru co-headed a joint delegation of LDP and Socialist Party of Japan members that went to North Korea. The SPJ was the main opposition party at the time. The parties signed a joint declaration with the ruling Korean Workers’ Party calling for the need to normalize diplomatic ties.
Kanemaru, who died in 1996 at 81, also spoke with late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung during his five-day visit.
The people in the delegation are the latest from Japan to visit the North since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government in early July eased travel restrictions between the countries.
When Kanemaru visited North Korea in 1990, the abduction issue was widely unknown in Japan.