BEIJING – The head of Chongryon, the most influential pro-North Korean body in Japan, wrapped up his first trip to Pyongyang in eight years Tuesday.
Ho Jong Man, head of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, as Chongryon is otherwise known, was hoping to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during his one-month stay, but he was tight-lipped at Beijing Airport when he flew there from Pyongyang.
“This is just a transit place. I will speak (to reporters) when I go back to Tokyo,” Ho, a member of North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament, said.
North Korean state media have not reported any appearances by Kim, presumed to be 31 years old, at public events since a Sept. 3 concert in Pyongyang that he attended with his wife.
He was not seen at the Sept. 25 parliamentary session, raising speculation that he is ill. This period of absence in official reports is the longest since he inherited power after his father’s December 2011 death.
Kim was shown walking with a limp on state television this summer.
Ho, accompanied by several Chongryon executives, went to Pyongyang on Sept. 6 for the first time since April 2006 after Japan eased travel restrictions between the two countries in July.
In addition to taking part in a parliamentary session on Sept. 25, Ho had planned to discuss Japan-related issues with top officials in Pyongyang.
Chongryon has functioned as a de facto North Korean embassy in Japan for many decades in the absence of diplomatic relations between Tokyo and Pyongyang.
Japan’s sanctions on North Korea, imposed in 2006 following a missile launch and Pyongyang’s first nuclear test, included a ban on Chongryon executives who also serve in the parliament from returning to Japan.
In early July, Japan lifted some unilateral sanctions in return for the North’s launch of a fresh investigation into Japanese nationals abducted in the 1970s and 1980s.